The Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today
|Part one: Struggle for Power in the Two Revolutions|
|I -||1. The 1914 War - 2. Nightmarish Collapse - 3. Seven Theses on War - 4. No “New Theory” - 5. Simultaneous Revolution? - 6. Down with Disarmament! - 7. Youthful Exuberance - 8. Guns and Workers - 9. Fatherland and Defence - 10. Victory in One Country - 11. Ditched Resolution (La carta cambiata)|
|II -||12. The Made Up Theory - 13. Countries and Revolutions - 14. Back to the Roots: The Manifesto! - 15 - Harmonic Structures - 16. From 1848 to the Commune - 17. Social-democratic Revisionism - 18. Only the Opportunism is New - 19. The Socialist Transformation - 20. Power and Economy - 21. Production and Politics - 22. Infamy and Philistines|
|III-||23. Back to 1914 - 24. Subversion of the Tendencies? - 25. The early part of the War - 26. War suits Democracy - 27. Cracks Appear in the Empire - 28. A Warmongering Revolution - 29. A Loss of Direction - 30. A homeland at last? - 31. Vladimir gets ready to move off - 32. The April fool - 33. Thrills after the dressing down - 34. Monosyllabic proof: da|
|IV -||35. April’s Benchmarks - 36. Repel defencism! - 37. Defeatism continues - 38. Transition: between which two stages? - 39. The provisional Government to the pillory! - 40. Party and Soviet - 41. Impeccable tactics - 42. Down with Parliamentarism! - 43. Police, Army, Bureaucracy - 44. Frail human nature? - 45. The clearly bourgeois social measures - 46. Other false dispersals|
|V -||47. Towards the April Conference - 48. Disagreement at the conference - 49. The question of power again - 50. The new form of power - 51. The clear alternative - 52. One foot then the other - 53. Further steps taken by the two feet - 54. Wrong moves by the first foot - 55. The difficult post-April maneuver|
|VI -||56. The Russian national question - 57. Two conflicting positions - 58. Lenin’s confutation of the “lefts” - 59. The central question: the State - 60. The usual historical kitchen - 61. Lenin and the question of nationalities - 62. The conference resolution - 63. Despotism and imperialism - 64. Separation of States - 65. Against ‘cultural’ autonomy - 66. Nations and proletarian organisations - 67. Nationality and the West - 68. Revolution with Europe|
|VII -||69. After April, onwards to the great struggle - 70. Legal Preparation or Preparation for Battle? - 71. The post-April Phase - 72. The Struggle in the Countryside - 73. The Demands of the Urban Workers|
|VIII -||74. The First All-Russian Congress of Soviets - 75. The Line-up at the Congress - 76. Lenin’s Interventions - 77. The Bolshevik Position - 78. “Popular” Revolutions - 79. “Revolutionary Democracy” - 80. Political Economic Measures|
The extended study entitled Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi first appeared in the columns of Il Programma Comunista, an organ of our party at that time, in 15 instalments from number 10, 1955 to number 4, 1956. Here we are publishing the introduction to that work, recently translated by our English comrades, and it gives a good idea of the vast panorama of complex material covered.
The important question of the class nature of the self‑proclaimed ‘soviet State’, of the complex and turbulent way it came into being, and of its subsequent history was already back then a central preoccupation of the many movements which in all countries, of both new and long entrenched capitalisms, although wavering in their loyalty and entertaining major doubts, declared themselves followers of the October Revolution. Equally it stimulated the misleading propaganda of the opposing camps, the Atlantic and Eastern bloc ones, which were nevertheless in agreement in describing the ‘soviet State’ as communist and proletarian; characteristics these which supposedly referred not only to the political nature of the State but also the prevailing economic relations in Russia and to all aspects of its society.
It was therefore evident that a revival of the communist movement, similar to what came after the dispersion of the Paris Commune and the First International, the betrayal of 1914 and of the Second International, and the degeneration of the Third International, required the party of communism to derive definitive historical lessons from these serious defeats of ours, and make a clear reaffirmation of orthodox doctrine and of our consequent separation from the degenerate schools and parties of anarchism, of reformism, and of that national-communism which would be named after Stalin. Only on acquiring the balance sheet of the Russian tragedy, complete, coherent and agreed upon, was it, and will it be, possible for the refoundation of the international communist movement of the working class to take place.
1956 and “The Structure” mark for our party the culmination and the completion of that difficult task, and in a certain sense it was definitive.
Stalin had died in 1952. Already by 1956 the XXth Congress of the CPUS had given its official sanction to what was called “destalinization”. And forty years later, on 26 December 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR would declare itself “dissolved”, giving birth to a declaredly capitalist nation on the ruins of the “death of communism”. “Communism is dead – Long Live Communism” we would write, meaning that we considered the inglorious, horrible death of false socialism a good thing and the necessary precondition for the rebirth of genuine communism, which would arise on its own distinctive bases of class and historical programme.
All of the transitions that have taken place in the sixty odd years since the drafting of “The Structure” have been carefully monitored by the Party, and their causes and effects analysed. They cannot be characterised, we wrote, as either revolutions or counter-revolutions.
As far as the Russian economy is concerned, there has never been a return to capitalism, a historical backwards step. History never goes backwards. And it wasn’t possible to return to capitalism because Russia never emerged from it in the first place. The task of the revolution in isolated and semi‑feudal Russia in the early 1920s was just to resist in the expectation of the revolution breaking out in the West. And in order to resist it had to build capitalism, even if under the communist dictatorship, in other words, electrification, large scale industry, a modern agriculture. And subsequently the accumulation of capital in Russia took the form of State Capitalism, but only in large‑scale industry.
As regards the political situation, the overturning by the class which through its party held on to the dictatorial power of the State, in Russia would come to an end with the degeneration of the glorious Russian Communist Party, in a lethal struggle which saw the fractions which remained faithful to communism and Marxism defeated; a process which by 1956 had been fully completed and sanctioned by the participation of the Russian State in the Second Imperialist War.
To be sure, Stalinism, destalinization, and openly declared capitalism are different, indeed conflicting, phases, but all are part of the tumultuous process of the formation of a national capitalism. The different guises in which the latter appears and the ideologies behind which it hides, whether democratic, fascist, or “communist”, correspond to the changing necessities of the defence of the relations of production, always and without fail based on wage labour and the accumulation of capital. Whether the owner of the capital is a private individual or the State doesn’t change by one jot the underlying relations of production and distribution.
It is therefore gratifying to have confirmed our prediction that the centralized “Soviet planning” of the productive forces would be unable to contain the disruptive energy of those forces which they assume in the shape of capital, resistant as it is to any kind of containment or rationality and with an inherent tendency towards overproduction and self‑destruction. This phenomenon, which propels the capitalisms of both East and West into crisis; into their common, fatal crisis of the senile phase of capitalism, will not be avoided by constantly altering the colour of their flags.
What the global working class and the revolution needs is a party which, as in Russia, knows how to recognise and fight for its revolution, and without getting distracted, deceived or deviated by the various so‑called “revolutions” on offer from the rotten bourgeois world, each of them as grandiloquent and pretentious as they are inconsistent.
The current essay may be considered a direct continuation of the study presented at our party’s general meeting in Bologna held between 31 October and 1 November 1954 and fully developed in a set of articles, ranging over eleven numbers, which appeared in our fortnightly publication Il Programma Comunista (issue no.21, 1954 to issue no. 8, 1955).
Its title, Russia and Revolution in the Marxist Theory, corresponded to the aim of giving a systematic exposition of what the Marxist communist movement has asserted as regards the historical development of Russian society and its international relations.
By remaining faithful to the method which presents the task of Marxist revolutionaries not as a generic more or less sceptical waiting for events to unfold, whose unexpected novelties and changes of course indicate to the movement the new path it should take, but as a constant comparison of historical occurrences with previous “expectations” and “forecasts”; something the party, as a living organisation participating in historical events, is in a position to do (although it remains a constant challenge) by drawing on the theory which shaped its platform and its general character; we set out to present what the Marxists had established as regards the course of social history of Russia, and to compare it with the historical data we have on the past and present development of Europe and the world.
The exposition was divided into three periods. As would be expected an Introduction took up this theme and reconnected it to the many previous elaborations on this important topic that had already been made at our meetings and in our writings from just after the Second World War onwards, and it set out the problem: to obliterate all of the assertions made by our enemies, both open and hidden, about the incapacity of Marxism to arrive at a general picture of what happened in Russia, and of the so-called necessity to make revisions to our general theory in order to encompass Russian “peculiarities”.
The first part was entitled: “European Revolution and ‘Greater Slavia’”. In it was sketched out a developmental time-frame of the forms of production that typify the Russian zone today, as distinguished from the Mediterranean-classical and German-feudal forms. It set out to trace the main lines of these three processes, placing the Russian one in relation to historical data on how the first communities settled and organized themselves on the land; their arrangement into social classes and their forms of production; and the major and minor centralization of political formations and of the State. Having thus arrived in modern times, an account was given of what Marxism asserted in its early years regarding the role of Russia in the European revolutionary movement after the French Revolution, and then as regards social questions within Russia. This from the contributions of Marx and Engels in the last century.
Having paused to consider the dual Marxist interest in the impending revolutions in Russia, which would fatally intertwine the bourgeois and the proletarian ones, the second part gave an account of the particularly rich and complex views about this future-historical question which were expressed by the mainly Marxist, but also pre-Marxist, movements inside Russia, with particular attention paid to the debates and the solutions put forward in the various congresses of the Bolshevik Party before the 1914 war. Here also we set out to demolish the extremely persistent idea that in Russia one is obliged to use a special historical yardstick.
2. Plan of the Present Report
On the basis of the material set out and elaborated in suchlike manner we come directly to the topic under consideration here: study of the historic way in which the great revolution occurred, and evaluation of the events and of the situation that came after it.
We therefore come to the essential issue, one which not only gave rise to the particular differentiation of our group from so many others, but which stands at the centre of every struggle, of every political dispute in the contemporary world, that is: what is Russia today? And indeed since far off 1917 taking a position on the Russian situation, condemning or exhalting the extent to which Russia has its own stage, and the coups de theatre it has presented to an astonished world, form the touchstone for the warring movements and parties, even in countries far removed from what goes on there, in their various battles.
Today the political horizon is entirely obscured and suffocated by an interpretation which is essentially the same in both sectors, shared despite being the bitterest of enemies, and between which stands in today’s troubled world an almost completed physical wall; a forbidding sight for all to behold. Russia, with its powerful leading State and a bunch of satellites and hangers-on, is supposedly on the side of the global proletariat and represents a socialist form of social organization – while the other countries, at whose head stands a number of other monstrous State powers comparable in size to Russia, supposedly represent the defence, preservation and interests of the present capitalist economic form of society, and of the bourgeois class which controls it under the banner of democratic liberty.
Since its very first manifestation we have fought, on our own or with very few others, against this interpretation of living history, and we alone have showed the best way of opposing it, in rigorous coherence with the Marxist method of reading the social struggle of the last century. From our very first meetings we rejected the notion that Russia equals socialism and from the very first issues of our bimonthly publication (in the years up to 1951) of our review Prometeo. Our programmatic formulations were rolled out at our very first meetings in Rome, Naples, Florence, Milan, Trieste etc.
We demonstrated, moreover, that they were very different from those of the trotskists, which defend Russia on the basis it is proletarian and socialist today, and also from the banal formulations of leftism, which lack the dialectical force to go beyond a merely verbal identification of each historical process and of each imperialism. We also considered it important to dismantle an odd construct which sees the social structure in Russia today as representing a third way in the bloody dialogue which started a century ago between capitalism and communism; an alleged rule of the bureaucratic classes.
And all of this we were able to elaborate by showing how it stems from the umbilical cord of orthodox unitary Marxism, first and foremost, and then from the robust defence of it, immediately after the Russian Revolution, by the left-wing Italian Marxist Communists and by a few other international groups, when confronted with the first symptoms of the gigantic degenerative wave which goes by the name of Stalinism, which would then sweep everything away.
It is a case now of providing a better exposition of all this; a survey which, after having covered the events of the long awaited double revolution of 1917 (be it understood in a critical way not by listing a succession of already generally well-known facts the events), will proceed to clarify the relations of production that exist in Russia today, and the economic laws to which they correspond, and demonstrate that such a society still remains within the bounds of capitalism; and in the end sum up the result obtained, not to be disparaged, of a colossal bourgeois revolution, whose epic expansion proceeds from old Europe and extends across the whole of the planet.
3. More on “Tactics”
Also omitted from the present report, although we need to remember a connection exists, is a topic our movement put a lot of work into over a number of years, building up a large corpus of documents in the process, that is: the debate on tactics and methodology which took place before our split from official communism, which bit by bit, from positions which were increasingly unacceptable and heterodox, descended to making a systematic repudiation of the initial positions which had bound us to what we had derived in common, put simply, from Marx, Lenin and the Third International. This debate on tactics took place between 1920 and 1926 and the positions adopted, as we intend to prove, were – in their rectitude and far from simplistic presentation – genuinely Marxist, and would receive, in the future, the most resounding, but least appreciated, of confirmations.
Nevertheless it is important to specify exactly what position we take on this realigning of the delicate matter of tactics, indispensible for any return to those periods – desirable but not expected any time soon – in which action and struggle take precedence over the never to be neglected and always decisive factor of party doctrine.
Without a doubt our struggle is to ensure that the movement’s “obligatory” rules as regards action are applied by the party in a practical sense; rules which are binding not only on individuals and peripheral groups, but on the party centre itself, to which is due total executive discipline, to the extent it remains strictly bound (without the right to improvise bogus ‘new courses” when new situations are identified) to the set of precise rules adopted by the party as its guide to action.
However, we need to avoid any misunderstanding as regards the universality of these rules, which are not primary, immutable rules, but derivative ones. The permanent principles, which are forever binding on the movement, since they arose – according to our thesis of the revolutionary programme forming all at once – at given, rare turning points in history, are not the rules on tactics, but the laws of historical interpretation contained within our body of doctrine. The development of these principles leads to the recognition of the great road, over vast areas and across historical periods calculable in centuries, which the party is on, and from which it cannot diverge without leading to its collapse and historical disintegration. Tactical norms, which no-one has the right to leave a blank sheet or to change in order to adapt to immediate circumstances, are rules that derive from this theorization of the great historical pathways and main tendencies, and they are rules which are in a practical sense firm but in a theoretical sense flexible, because they are rules derived from the laws of the “major courses”, and like them, since they exist on the historical level rather than that of manoeuvre and intrigue, they are declaredly transitory.
We remind the reader of the many, often cited examples, such as the famous transition in Western Europe from the fighting of defensive wars and wars of national independence, to the method of defeatism in any war conducted by the bourgeois State. Comrades need to understand that no problem will ever be resolved by resorting to a party tactical code.
The latter has to exist, but in itself it reveals nothing and resolves no queries; it is within the storehouse of general doctrine that the answers should be sought, and by keeping firmly in mind the historical cycles/zones that are derived from that doctrine.
It will therefore have to be left to a subsequent exposition, using as historical material the polemical dialogue between the Italian left and Moscow, to throw light on the question of tactics, and to put right the serious errors that are still doing the rounds. For example, as regards the question of the relationship between the international proletarian movement and the movements of the colonial peoples opposed to antiquated domestic regimes and white imperialism, which is the most extreme example of a historical rather than a tactical problem, not a question of providing support, because it is necessary first of all to give a full explanation of why the purely classist movement of the metropolitan proletariat has totally collapsed, and only then will we know what kind of relations this post-capitalist level revolutionary force can establish with the pre-capitalist level revolutionary forces which are powerfully alive in the East today.
In such cases, to respond by citing some rigid tactical formula or, worse still, by inventing a new one, is banal. To defend the right to invent on the spur of the moment flexible tactical rules as convenient, this is opportunism and betrayal, yes; and we will always ruthlessly oppose it, but with much harsher, less innocuous condemnations of infamy than that.
4. Results Obtained
Since the results established in our previous treatise are merely our point of departure, we need only record the most important points.
The doctrine of historical materialism confirms we are entirely right in opposing the superficial notion which claims that Russian history is somehow exceptional. The various processes by which free nomadic tribes were transformed into an organized settled people is set in relation to the physical nature of the territory; to the climate; to the poor fertility of the soil; to the vast expanse of land far from the coastal regions; to the different rate of evolution with respect to the peoples of the hot Mediterranean shores; to the different manifestation of slavery related to the latter, and to the formation of a unitary State. Different destinies awaited those peoples from the East who reached the borders of the collapsing Roman Empire, and whose accumulated wealth and endowment of an advanced production they exploited – allowing them to form a civilization based on landed property, a decentralized order akin to that of the feudal lords – and those who remained closer to the vast Asian heartland, exposed to fresh waves of nomadic hordes in search of prey and a base camp, whose stability would remain precarious for as long as it was entrusted to local chieftains, and which only became permanent after the formation of a large, centralized State organization, powerful enough to organize not only wars but also peace-time production.
From the earliest times the State is therefore an essential component of Russian society, and thanks to it, and the military and administrative organizations centred around it, it is able to withstand the continuous attacks from Asia and Europe and become increasingly powerful. But its function is not merely political but also directly economic: to the Crown belongs around half the land and the rural serf communities, and thus the class of nobles controls only half of the territory and the population and is subordinate to the central dynastic power: the king is not, as in the decentralized Germanic system, elected by the nobles, who remain the effective holders of the real economic and legal control of society.
This typical “State Feudalism” survives into modern times and Marx sees it as the lynchpin of the “Holy Alliances” and as the power, from the time of Napoleon onwards, which is most committed to subjugating the bourgeois revolutions in Europe, as well as being prepared to lend its support to both monarchies and bourgeoisies to help them combat the first proletarian movements.
We recorded Marx’s keen interest in each of the Tsar’s military defeats, from which might emerge the collapse of the Slavic bulwark of reaction, whoever the enemy might be.
We then aligned the data from the first analyses of the social forces inside Russia, and the responses, for which Engels had laid the basis, to the famous question of the possible “leap over capitalism” to which Marx had also made dialectical allusions, eventually discarding such a possibility. Engels follows the early formulations of the Russian revolutionaries which underestimate the importance of emerging industry and rely on the peasant movement, and he engages them in discussion, also concluding in his final days that the Slavic agricultural community would be unable to transform itself into full-blown socialism, before a complete capitalist and mercantile form had emerged.
In the second part, as mentioned, we looked at the extremely important work of the
nascent Russian Marxist movement, supported by the industrial proletariat, and recorded the
following historical theses attributed to it, which may be summed up as follows:
- Progressive development of capitalism in Russia and formation of a large urban proletariat.
- Negative conclusion as regards the revolutionary competence of the Russian bourgeoisie to conduct the overthrow of Tsarism.
- Analogous conclusion as regards the capacity of the movements based on the peasantry, such as the populists, the trudoviks and the socialist revolutionaries.
- Condemnation of the position taken by some Marxists on the right, later termed Mensheviks, which, based on the false claim that the bourgeois revolution was of no interest to proletarians and socialists, proposed leaving it to the democratic and popular parties to lead it, thus, to all intents and purposes, abandoning the political struggle against the Tsarist power.
- Further unmasking of this counter-revolutionary thesis, disputing the notion that one could support a version of the democratic revolution based on constitutions bestowed by the Tsar, or even on the preservation of the dynasty, id est an insurrectional and republican formula for the bourgeois revolution.
- Participation of the urban proletariat in the front line of every struggle, as historically occurred in 1905; revolutionary power issuing from the armed struggle to exclude all the bourgeois constitutional parties and to be founded on the leadership of the democratic revolution by workers and peasants (democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants).
- The transition to further revolutionary struggle for the socialist program to only take place after the outbreak – always predicted by Marxism – of proletarian socialist revolution in Europe following the collapse of Tsarism.
5. Lenin’s Formula
So before the revolution, and after it for that matter, Lenin never expected the evolving revolutionary crisis in Russia to reveal a different process of international proletarian revolution that would need to be applied there. As a Marxist of the radical left he never doubted that in the capitalist countries socialism would emerge from a revolutionary insurrection of proletarians and the realization of the Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat. Since however he was having to work on the problem of a country in which the bourgeois revolution was yet to be completed, he predicted not only that the proletariat and its revolutionary party would have to invest all their efforts toward that end, but, given the delay in bringing about the fall of the reactionary and feudal Tsarist regime State, he issued the forecast and explicit program that the working class would have to relieve the bourgeoisie of this historic duty, and conduct it in its stead, also relieving it of the no less characteristic task of leading the peasant masses.
If, as an example of the bourgeois revolution, the formula was: leadership provided by the bourgeois class (although, even back then, more by its ideologues and politicians than its industrialists, merchants and bankers) drawing the proletarians of the cities and the peasant serfs of the countryside along behind the democratic revolution; the Russian formula for revolution (still bourgeois, i.e., democratic) was different: leadership provided by the proletariat, struggle against the bourgeoisie which was inclined to reach an understanding with Tsarism based on parliamentary compromises, drawing of the popular and rural masses along behind the proletariat, who, during this historical phase, elevated the poor peasants to the rank of allies during the insurrection and in the dictatorial government.
The tasks of such a revolution, not of socialism as yet, are nevertheless clear: civil war to defeat the Tsarist army and police, overthrow of the dynasty and proclamation of the republic, elected constituent assembly struggling against all opportunist and bourgeois parties, drawing on the support of the Councils – arisen in 1905 – of workers and peasants.
The objection that the latter was not a socialist revolution did not stop Lenin for one moment since the thing was clear from a theoretical point of view. It was a bourgeois revolution, in the only form in which the defeat of the Tsarist and medieval counter-revolution could be assured: and to achieve this one result (considered then and subsequently as clearly extremely important and decisive), the power of the proletarian dictatorship was consecrated: dictatorship because violent and illegal means were used, just as they had been by the great bourgeoisies in Europe at the head of the masses, but democratic because the task was to destroy feudalism and not capitalism, with the peasants allied for this very reason and because, while ultimately destined to eventually become allies of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, they are also the sworn enemies of feudalism.
Lenin (it seems indispensible to us to carry on synthesising what was said at Bologna, referring doubters to the mass of documents and evidence contained in the extended report) wasn’t, therefore, during this phase, setting his sights on the socialist revolution, such as to lead not to a bourgeois democracy, which at most would be radical and consistent, but to the dictatorship which would expropriate capital, because he was leaving this latter task to a struggle which would no longer be contained within a national framework, as would be the case for the impending Russian Revolution, but which would take place on an international scale.
He believed that, in the aftermath of a European war, which Marx and Engels had always anticipated would be between the Slavs and the Germans, the collapse of Tsarism would be sure to set the working masses of the West in motion, and that only after they had taken political power and taken control of the huge means of production concentrated by a fully developed capitalism, would the revolution in Russia also be able to acquire socialistic content.
The start of the war had been confirmed by the disastrous one with Japan. But the counter-revolution had easily crushed the forces of 1905. As a consequence, until the struggle against the forces of reaction was resolved through the use of terror (also in substance “bourgeois”, as in Robespierre’s use of it), the decisive toppling of Tsarism would always be a preliminary outcome with respect to the advent of socialism. We showed along with Trotski that the power of the international proletariat was invoked by Lenin to support the revolutionary power in Russia against a Tsarist revival, not so much to aid collectivist social development. And in fact a revival of Tsarism would have represented the same oppressive yoke for the Russian peasants and proletarians if they had got into power by democratic means, and to Western workers risen up against the capitalist bourgeoisie.
In fact back in 1917 and after a series of other events, Tsarism’s attempts to regain power, flanked by western forces, were far from negligible, and it would take a long time to stamp them out. Lenin’s powerful vision of a gradation of historical phases was therefore correct; and it would be an exercise in extremist stupidity to portray him as the confident prognosticator of socialism in Russia.
This apparently left explanation of Lenin’s work would be used in the treacherous game of showing that historically one arrives at socialism through forms that include democratic ingredients; and socially side by side with peasant-populist elements, which is the main form that the degeneration, and the present ignominious situation, takes.
6. Letting the Facts Speak for Themselves
The present issue is to establish if Russia did or didn’t move forward insofar as it was contained within such a perspective. If we threw a bridge between those disquisitions from between 1903 to 1917, which seemed far removed from any practical effect, and the situation as it is today in 1955, in which we find the capitalist form completely established, deeply-rooted and spread throughout Russia, and we find founded on it and intermingled with it a veritable orgy of democratic, populist and coalitionist “values”, we are entitled to conclude that Lenin’s forecast was accurate and that history arrived at the point he said it would, thanks to a gigantic effort on the part of the Russian proletariat, whose balance sheet today is: “the building of capitalism”.
And it proves all the points we have been making: that with the Marxist key ancient and modern Russian can be unlocked and read correctly; that Marx and Engels rightly prognosticated the indescribable horrors of the capitalist inferno; that Lenin produced an impeccable Marxist analysis of how to cast off the yoke of a formidable pre-capitalist regime, along with a very apt theory about the bourgeoisie’s incapacity to accomplish it and the role of the proletariat as the latter’s historical surrogate. And we are also fully entitled to say that Lenin achieved all that without adding anything new to classical Marxist theory: the birth of proletarian communism is dialectically a national and international fact: it can only arise and take shape where the form of modern production has already triumphed and this has only happened within a national framework (England, France, etc) but, in issuing forth from such national contexts, as theory and as organization and working party, proletarian communism had from the very start to take into account not only the binomial capitalism-proletariat, but also the real, living global picture which includes every class and movement that exists within human society at all stages of development.
In the Manifesto this principle is applied on a universal scale, and since that time the communists, after all other vestal virgins have allowed themselves to be seduced, have continued to tend the flame of every genuinely white-hot revolution.
This is the genuine Marxist viewpoint and sole way of formulating the problems of all societies not yet arrived at the stage of the great duel between bosses and workers, and it also applies to all the marginal and ‘mongrel’ classes in those societies which by now have the capitalist “model” of the economy as their underlying framework.
7. The Past Half Century
If all of this is particularly true at the beginning and end of the fifty year period which runs from when the theory was sketched out in 1905, and the actual physical structure as it appeared in 1955, we can’t consider only the extremes. The historical bridge that extends between these dates is best conceived of as having several arches rather than a single span; this is because it crosses the most concentrated 50 years in all of known history, including two world wars and, as far as Russia is concerned, at least three great revolutions, and a half-revolutionary, half counter-revolutionary course which, even if not unique in the history of the modes of production, must certainly be described in much more detail.
Since we will not be providing a theory in the Marxist sense to explain each of the “intermediary arches”, which together define the whole difficult cycle, an over-simplification might be helpful at this point.
Yes, the Russian party of revolutionary workers and of communist socialists set itself the historical aim of bringing about the accession of mercantile and democratic capitalism, on condition that by delivering this (and committing to it its own class forces, protagonists of another great historical task) it would guarantee the obliteration from Europe, by fire and the sword, of the monstrous construction of the Tsarist State, consigning the memory of it forever to the dim and distant past.
Yes, the momentous and far from linear struggle which then took place, it had no other result but this, and, using the same criteria we apply to the countries of the capitalist West, we must denounce the notion that in Russia today there are powerful forces at work whose aim is to achieve post-capitalist forms, for the difference between the two consists only in the distinction between a capitalism in florid growth and one in an inflationary phase which heralds its decline.
But it would be wrong to dryly conclude from this that, given the correspondence between what the party mapped out, and what history presented us with, that in Russia there was only a bourgeois revolution, because bracketing together Kerensky’s and Lenin’s revolutions and describing them both as bourgeois fails to fully explain the situation, the two of them standing in the relation to one another (so to speak) of Mirabeau’s revolution to Robespierre’s.
As we develop this point, setting it in the context of economic and social factors, classes, parties and political power relations, we will assert that whilst the form of production in Russia is bourgeois, October was not bourgeois, but proletarian and socialist.
Such a treatment of the subject is only achievable by placing it within the international framework of the last few decades, and at the end of this introduction we will recall the three historical characteristics which are contained within October itself and which confer on it much greater significance than having “just” destroyed Tsarism forever; which with only the results of the February revolution to contend with would probably have regained power, as it desperately attempted to do, and as a large part of the global bourgeoisie would encourage it – and encouraged in a practical sense – to do, until it was soundly beaten by the Bolshevik’s integral dictatorship.
8. The Destruction of War
The strict relationship established between defeat of the Tsarist army and political revolution, which Marx and Lenin were keen to identify in all of the wars which European history records – we could say a lot more about the purely indicative use we make of the named persons who became associated with the coalitions from the early eighteen hundreds to the First World War – was proven in the policy conducted, without shrinking from its more tragic consequences, by the October power, namely: favouring the breaking up of the military units, dismantling the front and overcoming any infatuation within the party, even unfortunately by some of its best members including those definitely on the left, for a national, patriotic version of the war, which instead, in a truly major success, was ruthlessly crushed.
This totally revolutionary policy, which left no room for hypocrisy, which pushed through to its most extreme consequences, which was inspired by the demand for a no holds barred defeatism, of turning the war to defend the country into a civil war, was magnificently vindicated by the collapse of the German military power, brought low not by an offensive from the West but by a capitulation and fraternization to the East.
For a bourgeois revolution to have such content as this is not possible, intrinsically linked as it is to the promotion of values and institutions of a national and patriotic character. This we have already explained at great length (in the treatise at the Trieste Meeting of 29-30 August 1953 for example, the written account of which, entitled “ Factors of Race and Nation in the Marxist Theory”, appeared in issues 16 -20/1953 of Il Programma Comunista). We showed on one occasion how Robespierre, speaking from the Parliamentary Tribune, reproached his sworn enemies the English for taking action against Louis XIV and XVI to redress French influence on the other side of the Atlantic. The bourgeois revolution doesn’t break the thread of national history, only a proletarian revolution can dare as much. Today yes, now that the line the Russian power takes is patriotic, glorifying its defeated armed forces at Port Arthur and Tsushima who Lenin had worked to hamstring, and not less the defenders of Sebastopol who made Marx sick to the stomach, and even the conquests of Peter the Great.
9. Liquidation of the Allies
Another distinguishing feature of Bolshevik revolutionary policy is the progressive struggle against the transitory allies of the preceding phase, who one by one are put out of action until finally an undiluted party government is achieved. It is not enough here to draw an analogy with the bourgeois revolutions and the struggles of the various parties from 1789 and 1793 in France, because the analogy holds only as regards the methods of action. We would not say, for example, that a distinguishing proletarian feature of the Russian Revolution was political terrorism. Terror was involved in the revolutions of the bourgeoisie in England, France and in many other countries; and in Russia, because it was a question of destroying the parties which supported the Tsar, such a method was decisively invoked also by non-Marxists, such as the left populists and the social revolutionaries.
But the dialectical position assumed by the Bolsheviks over the whole course of this development, beginning with the assumption of the tasks of the bourgeoisie and then disbanding their parties, and accomplished by temporarily marching alongside semi-bourgeois and peasant allies until finally driving them out of the government and from any right to participate in the State, responds to the original Marxist position, which even before 1848 clearly proposes an initial struggle fought alongside bourgeois, liberal and democratic allies, followed by a decisive attack against them and against the petty-bourgeois factions. Such a forecast is firmly anchored in an unrelenting, pre-existing critique of the distinctive ideologies of these strata, which make them implacable enemies of the proletariat.
These characteristic developments, which occur in all struggles between the classes, have led on numerous occasions to the defeat of the proletariat and the ruthless destruction of its forces and organizations, as in the classic events in France. For the first time the proletarian party in Russia achieved victory in the final episode of the civil war phase, freeing itself from its soon-to-be ex-allies, who bit by bit passed to the side of open counter-revolution, leaving the victory achieved in the final battles in the hands of the party. Whatever happened next, which saw no setback in the Civil War, but another process entirely, this historical experience was truly original and it remains a permanent legacy of revolutionary potential, which would later be dissipated in other ways, and through the shameless use of alliances and cliques which lacked any of the original dialectical autonomy of the class party or of intransigent positions it adhered to.
On many occasions we have rolled out the Marxist concept that counter-revolutionary experiences are precious nourishment on the tough road ahead, as in the case of the Paris Commune so fundamentally invoked by Lenin.
These results therefore, even if later buried or cast aside, are valuable to us in showing that after October, before the new government had a chance to take on those tasks of an economic, productive and social nature which we will examine later on, political power was indeed in the hands of the proletariat, which due to the international situation went beyond the bounds of the democratic dictatorship, clearly if not definitively, and beyond the bounds of the alliance with the populist-peasant parties, and crossed over therefore into the historic sphere of the socialist political revolution, which then missed out on the contribution which only the revolution of the workers of the West could have brought to it.
10. Demolition of the State
The passage from the purely democratic revolution, even though with various socialist parties in its front ranks, to the Bolshevik October, would not have been possible unless the whole question of the ascent to power of the workers’ party in the advanced countries had been highlighted, and along with it the comprehensive Marxist theory of the role of violence in history and of the nature of the political State. This great battle was not just theoretical, such as occurred in the pages of State and Revolution and during the controversies that claimed the attention of the entire world in the post-First-World-War period, and it was not just organizational, inasmuch as a radical split was achieved between the revolutionaries of the Third International and the revisionists and traitors of the Second. It was a real political battle with armed force used during the worst incidents, when we saw social-democrats become capitalism’s executioners and stab the revolution and the red dictatorship in Germany and Hungary in the back, and the same battle developing and spreading throughout Europe.
Suppose we had only got as far as implementing the insurrectional, and terrorist, democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants, the one possible historical inheritor of power in Russia, but no further. There would remain just one experience, one legacy to bequeath to revolutionary history, namely: that insurrections, civil war and terror are necessary, but only in order to emerge from the mediaeval form; not necessarily in order to successfully emerge from the capitalist and bourgeois form.
However in the subsequent advance of the Bolshevik proletarian power in Russia the latter was able to merge its struggle with that of the advanced forces of proletarian communists, who in the European countries were no longer faced with a forgotten Middle Ages, but with the modern democracy of capital, and who had learnt, in a historical phase which was much further on with respect to the conquest of bourgeois liberty, that violence and the dictatorship of the class oppressed by capital was a necessary requirement. This they had learnt alongside their comrades in Russia, who had also had to “slit the throats” of the so-called socialists, who were influenced by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas, and notions of class democratic pacifism, which maintained that, following the collapse of the feudal regimes, the struggle should be conducted by legal means; thereby revealing themselves to be completely counter-revolutionary, some of them even with ill-concealed links to Tsarism which was still hatching its plots.
Although the classic bourgeois revolution necessarily involved the dismantling of the previous State structure, because it was founded on the old Estates, on the privileges of those Estates, and on the different juridical powers of society’s various components, only the Russian revolutionary struggle in its October phase was able to provide the positive, historical basis for the statement that even the modern, constitutional juridical State, proclaiming equality and freedom for all and based on universal representation without distinctions of Estate, even such a State, as Marx and the Manifesto established from the very beginning, was still an organ of class rule, and that one day History would smash it to pieces.
Nobody can therefore say that the October Revolution stayed within the limits of a bourgeois revolution. Social development within Russia had to stay within the limits of the capitalist forms and modes of production, and it is a historical fact that the proletariat fought for the installation of a bourgeois form – and had to do so. However its political struggle would not be so limited.
Acting as an inseparable part of the political struggle of the international proletariat, which in order to organize itself as ruling class must first organize itself as the party of its own exclusive and distinctive revolution, the forces and the arms which indisputably won the October battle won for world socialism and the global proletariat; and their victory in the historical and material sense will serve to achieve the global victory of communism, which will arise on the ruins of all types of capitalism in every country, and that includes present-day Russia.
The relationship between the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 cannot be ignored. This well‑known point is one we have recalled on an infinite number of occasions. The entire historical development which ties the Marxist parties of Europe and of Russia together, and which links the prospects for the future that had formed to the particularities of their internal political life and faction struggles, were all shaped by that volcanic historical crisis, that political earthquake in August 1914 from which 41 years now separate us.
Although our intention here is not to write history and the essential things everybody already knows, we nevertheless still need to recall the main points.
In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, a mainly Slav province which had passed from the Ottoman to the Austrian Empire after the Balkan Wars, on the 28th of June Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the elderly Franz Joseph, is passing through in an open‑topped car with his wife. They are mortally wounded by shots from the revolver of a young Bosnian nationalist.
In the tragic weeks that followed, the government in Vienna announced that the assassin and his accomplices had confessed under interrogation to being agents of the independence movement and the Serbian government. On 23 July, supposedly secretly spurred on by Kaiser Wilhelm, the Austrian foreign minister would issue its historic ultimatum to Serbia, imposing a series of political and internal police measures. A 48 hours deadline was set. Serbia’s response was weak in tone but it didn’t agree to all of the conditions. On the 23rd, Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, attempted to mediate by calling a conference. This was rejected by Germany. On the 28th, a month after the assassination, Austria declared war on Serbia.
On the 29th Russia mobilized, on the 30th Germany did the same, on two frontiers. On the 31st Germany ordered Russia to revoke the mobilization order within 24 hours, and after receiving no response it declared war on the 1st of August. On the 3rd it declared war on France, on the 4th it invaded Belgium but without a declaration of war. Only on 6 August did Austria declare war on Russia.
As we all know, the Belgian government decided to mount an armed resistance to the invasion and Great Britain declared war on Germany for having violated international pledges to respect Belgian neutrality. Count Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Foreign Minister, famously countered this by asking how Britain could go to war over ‘a scrap of paper’.
It would later emerge that the British, only a few days before, had assured Berlin it would not intervene if Germany went to war with France and Russia, tacitly encouraging the Kaiser’s government to launch itself into the abyss.
But before we look at the immediate effects of the war on Russia, which is the subject of our present inquiry, we need to mull over another aspect of that tragic month: the collapse of International socialism.
The circumstances at the time, it should be borne in mind, were very different from when war broke in 1939. In 1914 there was a clash in every country between two clear alternatives: the internationalist class position on the one hand, and a unanimously national, patriotic position on the other. And this really was the case everywhere. By 1939 everything had changed, and in given countries there was to be found a bourgeois defeatism which founded movements against the war based on being open “partisans of the national enemy”. In the first historical cycle nationalism would triumph, in the second it split into two nationalisms. The cycle in which internationalism will get back on its feet is yet to happen.
2 – Nightmarish Collapse
Two days after Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia, the German socialist party issued a powerful anti‑war manifesto condemning it as «deliberately calculated to provoke war», and declaring that «not a single drop of German soldier’s blood must be sacrificed to the Austrian despot’s lust for power».
But by the time the International Socialist Bureau was summoned to an emergency meeting in Brussels on the 29th and 30th July, the situation was already coming to a head. Old Victor Adler, the leader of the Austrian socialists, would say in the opening address: «We are already at war. Don’t expect any further action from us. We are under martial law. Our newspapers are suppressed. I am not here to deliver a speech to the meeting but to tell you the truth that now, as hundreds of thousands of men march towards the borders, any action is impossible».
Bebel, who had died at the end of 1913, was no longer around; for the Germans Haase and Kautsky attended and debated directly with Jaurès and Guesde on the remote possibility that the war between Austria and Serbia might not necessarily extend to the rest of Europe (magnificent the stance of the few socialists in Serbia).
A general strike against mobilization was proposed only by Keir Hardie (the small British Socialist Party taking a not unworthy stance as well) and by Balabanoff, representing Italy along with Morgari. And who met this with a frosty response? The orthodox Marxist, Jules Guesde: «A general strike would only be effective in countries where socialism is strong, thus facilitating the victory of backward nations over the progressive ones. What socialist would want the invasion of his country, its defeat at the hands of a more retrograde country?».
Lenin was not there, but in a village in the Carpathians with his wife who was sick; Rosa was suffering from a heart complaint. Magnificent was the adroit and non‑orthodox Jaurés, thundering out at a great mass‑meeting with the immense crowd echoing the call: Down with war! Down with War! Long Live the International! Two days later the nationalist Vilain would kill the great tribune with two revolver shots, in Paris.
The only thing the meeting could do was to bring forward to the 9th August the world socialist congress which was due to take place in Vienna on the 23rd. But, as Wolfe correctly pointed out, those ten days would shake the world a lot more than the decades that followed [B.D.Wolfe, “Three who made a revolution”, New York, 1948].
Meanwhile between 31 July and 4 August in Berlin there were back to back meetings of the socialist party leadership and parliamentary group, with their 110 strong contingent of deputies in the Reichstag.
Mueller was dispatched to Paris where they considered the same question, although most of the French comrades said: France has been attacked, we have to vote Yes to war credits, and you Germans No. In Berlin 78 votes to 14 decided in favour of war credits with a declaration declining responsibility for the war. On the 4th all 110 were registered as voting for the credits (including the 14, amongst whom the president of the German Social Democratic Party Haase, and even Karl Liebknecht, for discipline’s sake) though one, just one, Fritz Kunert from Halle, slipped out of the Chamber before the vote.
The same day press dispatches from Paris brought the same baleful news: war credits for national defence passed unanimously.
In the two capitals crowds demonstrated in the streets to the cry of Up the War! Trotski was in the capital of Austria at the time, where he was astonished to hear the cries of exalted joy from the young demonstrators. What ideas are inflaming them? he asked himself. The national ideal? But isn’t Austria the very negation of any national ideal? But Trotski always put his faith in the masses, and in his autobiography he found an entirely optimistic explanation for this agitation aroused by the mobilization, a leap in the dark by the dominant classes.
3 – Seven Theses on War
Following his eventful crossing from Austria – where he was an enemy alien – into neutral Switzerland, Lenin was without reliable news on the stance taken by the Russian socialists. It was said that all the social democrats in the Duma, Mensheviks included, had refused to vote for war credits. But some things still stuck in his craw: in the pre‑vote debate, Kautsky, who he still considered his teacher, had opined for abstention, but afterwards, with a thousand and one sophisms, he would justify and defend the vote in favour set by the majority. Lenin then learned that in Paris Plekhanov had become a propagandist for enrolment into the French army. For days Lenin was consumed with rage and fury until finally he adjusted to the necessity of having to start all over again, and to defenestrate the new traitors. As soon as he could get six or seven Bolshevik comrades together, he presented them with seven concise theses on war. There was him, Zinoviev and their partners, three Duma deputies and perhaps the French-Russian Inessa Armand as well.
One: the European war has the clearly defined character of a bourgeois, imperialist and dynastic war.
Two: The conduct of the leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party, in the Second International (1889‑1914), who have voted for war credits and repeated the bourgeois-chauvinist phrases of the Prussian Junkers and the bourgeoisie, is a direct betrayal of socialism.
Three: The conduct of the Belgian and French Social-Democratic leaders, who have betrayed socialism by entering bourgeois governments, is just as reprehensible.
Four: The betrayal of socialism by most of the leaders of the Second International signifies the ideological and political bankruptcy of the International. This collapse is mainly caused by the present prevalence within it of petty-bourgeois opportunism.
Five: false and unacceptable are the justifications given by the various countries for their participation in the war, namely: national defence, defence of civilization, of democracy and so on.
Six: It is the first and foremost task of Russian Social-Democrats to wage a ruthless, all‑out struggle against Great-Russian and tsarist-monarchist chauvinism, and against the sophisms used by the Russian liberals and constitutional democrats, and a section of the populists, to defend such chauvinism. From the viewpoint of the working class and the toiling masses of all the peoples of Russia, the defeat of the tsarist monarchy and its army, which oppress Poland, the Ukraine, and many other peoples of Russia would be the lesser evil by far.
Seven: the slogans of Social-Democracy at the present time must be all‑embracing propaganda, involving the army and the theatre of hostilities as well, for the socialist revolution and the need to use weapons, not against their brothers, the wage slaves in other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries... the urgent necessity of organising illegal nuclei and groups in the armies of all nations... appeal to the revolutionary consciousness of the masses against the traitorous leaders... agitation in favour of republics in Germany, Poland and Russia.
The text was adopted with a few amendments, or rather additions:
1. An attack on the so‑called “centre” which had capitulated in the face of the opportunists and which needed to be kept out of the new international. This direct attack on Kautsky may not have been written by Lenin.
2. A recognition that not all workers had succumbed to war fever and in many cases had been hostile to chauvinism and opportunism. This was possibly prompted by news about those countries where part of the movement was on the right path (Serbia, Italy, England, some Greek and Bulgarian groups, etc).
3. An additional note on Russia whose source, Wolfe believes, is undoubtedly Lenin, in that it constitutes «a characteristic formulation of the requirements and of the slogans of a democratic revolution in Russia». And we wanted to put it here because it takes us directly to our main theme: «Struggle against the tsarist monarchy and Great-Russian, Pan‑Slavist chauvinism, and advocacy of the liberation of and self‑determination for nationalities oppressed by Russia, coupled with the immediate slogans of a democratic republic, the confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight‑hour working day».
A few weeks after the war broke out in 1914 the view of revolutionary Marxists is therefore clear.
In Europe: liquidation of the Second International and foundation of the Third.
In Europe: struggle to liquidate the war not through peace but by the overthrow of capitalist class rule (socialist revolution), subject to the toppling of the dynastic regimes.
In Russia: war lost, end of Tsarism, democratic revolution effected through radical measures. Transition to a socialist revolution only in tandem with a similar European revolution.
4 – No “New Theory”
This cycle is recounted in the official Stalinist History of the Bolshevik Party in such a way as to conclude wiht Lenin, confronted with the opportunist collapse of the European movement, supposedly creating the “new theory” of revolution in one country. It is therefore in this sense, and to this end, that it lays claim to Lenin’s entire inexhausible crusade against the social-patriots: «such as the Bolsheviks’ theoretical and tactical conception regarding the questions of war, peace and revolution».
It is instead abundantly clear, using pretexts even more specious than Guesde’s and Kautsky’s, that the astounding orders given to the Communist Parties during the Second World War, who were hurled onto a joint front with the bourgeoisies, left not a single stone of Lenin’s theory of war, peace and revolution standing, insofar as it was just the “old theory” of Marx, which the traitors of 1914 had similarly torn to shreds, and which Lenin, to their eternal shame, had gloriously reinstated. What else is the victory of the retrograde country which Guesde talked about in Brussels if not the eternal lie of the victory of the fascists over France or England which had to be avoided at all costs?
The official falsification relies on two of Lenin articles from 1915 and 1916. The 1915 one is entitled “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe”. Lenin, quite rightly, had a number of reservations about this slogan. The way it appeared in the seven theses was as republican United States of Europe, coordinated with the call for republics in Russia, Germany and Poland. (Today all done, but when will we add England to the list?). Later on the Party rightly decided to postpone this political slogan, as it could lead to misunderstandings. According to Lenin the United States of Europe between capitalist States (not just dynastic) is an inadmissible formula; but not bacause it is a pre‑socialist, democratic formula since such demands may still be useful, but because in this case such a body would be reactionary. An excellent and prophetic opinion on the various federations and European leagues propounded on all sides today, Stalinist ones included. «A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies».
Excuse us if we persist in the digression, but today they would be in second place behind America in any case, which now has the lion’s share of that partition. But this just makes the likelihood of a federal Europe being either “reactionary or impossible” even more likely.
Either against America, as Lenin viewed them in 1915, or under America, as we think likely today (or even under Russia, or under an entente between them) the United States of Europe would inevitably be against the colonies and against socialism.
As far as we are concerned, Lenin clearly states, war presents a more revolutionary situation than European federalism (rather different this than adopting the theory, etc, etc, of the various above-mentioned sacresties!)
Our slogan would be United States of the World, says Lenin. But even that doesn’t really suit us, firstly, because it clashes with socialism, «In the second place because it could generate the mistaken opinion that the victory of socialism in one country is impossible, and wrong ideas about the relations such a country would have with other ones».
It is here we want them, these gentlemen. It is the period subsequent to this that official history invokes: «Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible initially in some or even in one capitalist country taken separately. The victorious proletariat in that country, having expropriated the capitalists and organized socialist production, will arise against the rest of the capitalist world attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, [here finishes the citation by the great allies of Roosevelt, and before him Hitler, by the castrators of the revolution and of Lenin’s thinking, but we’ll go on] stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their States».
5 – Simultaneous Revolution?
The other citation which the afore-mentioned text would like to put on record is from an article written in Autumn 1916 The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution, in which is openly treated the hypothesis of a capitalist country in which the proletariat has taken power and then conducts a war against countries that are still bourgeois, importing the revolution. This scenario, which we have covered on many occasions, is a million miles away from the ghastly buffoonery of “peaceful co‑existence”, “peaceful emulation” and “defence against aggression”, inasmuch as such a war would be a class war, of unadulterated aggression, and above all an unconcealed declaration to the proletariat of the world to stand by and prepare for the moment when it will be possible to attack the strongholds of capitalist exploitation.
The crude sleight of hand lies in slipping from one of these theses to the other: taking political power in one country – building socialism in one capitalist country where power has been conquered – building socialism just in Russia. And it is this last thing which we mantain belongs in cloud cuckoo land, as will be borne out by the palpable economic facts in the second part of this report.
This then is the load of rubbish which supposedly justifies the new theory (only to then to be quickly bury it, new or not). «This theory differed radically from the conception which was widespread among Marxists in the pre‑imperialist phase of capitalism, when Marxists held that socialism couldn’t win in one country but would triumph at the same time in all the civilized countries». And then: Lenin destroyed this wrong theory, etc, etc.
This is just a fairy tale, every word of it made up, and Lenin had nothing to do with it. And did anyone ever really believe in this fable of simultaneous socialism in all countries anyway? Neither the left, nor with greater reason the right of Mrxism. And the civilized countries, which ones are they then? France, England and America, but Russia – certainly not. And Germany? To hear the bigots of 1914, of 1941, and those of today, who in order to attack the European Defence Community revive that much abused bogeyman of the thuggish, armed German, Germany is more uncivilized... than the Hottentots!
However, before continuing to dispel the central ambiguity that animates the entire narrative of proletarian history ad usum Kraemlini, it is necessary to make an observation. This alleged dualism between two theories, an old and a new one, the one arising from the circumstances of pre‑imperialist capitalism and followed, with related tactics, by the Second International, and the other supposedly discovered and installed by Lenin, and based on the experiences of the most recent imperialist phase (stage), is not a defining mark of the Stalinist brand of opportunism alone.
The opportunism of the 2nd International also had an overblown (and lousy) new theory of its own: one which boasted of having done justice to a forty-eightist and catastrophist Marx, authoritarian and terrorist, and modelled itself not on the bristly, coruscating “red terror doctor”, but an the most honourable parliamentary social-democrat in his top hat and tails (we even saw such creatures in Moscow), who loathed the class party and courted instead the pacifist and gradualist economic unions, ever ready to put the dampers on any mass action, and who finally, between the white fury of Vladimir Ulyanov, and of us lattest dupes, voted through war credits for the imperialist massacre. It was the revisionist theory of Bernstein and Co., singing their eternal, whorish refrain: the... times... have... changed.
So then, the same old story about the old nineteenth century theory of big bearded Karl, and the new twentieth century theory they have the nerve to attribute to Lenin, but which is the legacy of a simian army of bare‑arsed baboons who aren’t even fit to gibber his name; a theory typical of many small groups who don’t like to call themselves Stalinists, because they aren’t aware they are, and who – as we have rammed home on so many occasions – devote themselves to dry‑docking the ship of the revolution which supposedly ran aground because they weren’t around, poor cercopithecoids, to design the new theory, fortified by what Marx didn’t know and Lenin had only just begun to spell out; it is the legacy of the many small groups which every now and again, in a horrible “bouillabaisse” of doctrines and onanistic interpretations announce they are going to “reconstruct the class party”. Let us leave these gentlemen to their execitations (which above all fail to address the capricious aim that really motivates them: of attracting attention) and get back to the Kremlinesque machinations.
6 – Down with Disarmament!
The other contribution to the theory of the “revolution in one country” is drawn by those Moscow bishops’ council from another article, from Autumn 1916, which treats another theme: namely it smashes to smithereens, as the article from 1915 did the United States of Europe, another slogan, in support of disarmament, which the left‑wing elements of the socialist movement, during the war, especially in the Socialist Youth International, were going to launch in opposition to social-chauvinism.
The article is a powerful attack on pacifism, a cansistent theme in Lenin’s work, and thoroughout the decades of Marx’s “old theory”, and inseparable from the desperate resistance which radical Marxists have always mounted against the philanthropic-humanitarian pietism of the radical petty bourgeoisie and libertarians and against the gradualist visions of late nineteenth century reformism, which in a general cesspit of trade-union-big-wig corporativism and democratic electoralism wished to stifle power, violence, dictatorship, wars between States and wars between classes; a contemptible view and a world away from Marxism in its original, unadulterated form, avenged by the nimble fingers of those who patched it back together after it was ripped to shreds by those traitors. Today it must be proposed again, against the collectors of signatures, in the face of the bold supporters of the pen’s mighty crusade against the cannon and the atomic bomb [Cf. “The ‘Disarmament’ Slogan”, October 1916].
In the article “The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution”, which in our expositions (which invent or discover nothing, but only repropose the historical material, endowment of the anonymous, eternal movement, within the framework of well‑defined develop-mental phases) is placed in the right context, here is the passage that suits the officials: «The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in different countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production [applica et fac saponem!...]. From this it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all [Lenin’s italics] countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the other countries will remain, for a certain period, bourgeois and pre‑bourgeois. This is bound to create not only friction, but a direct attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie of other countries to crush the socialist State’s victorious proletariat. In such cases, a war on our part would be a legitimate and just war. It would be a war for socialism, for the liberation of other nations from the bourgeoisie».
Pure gold, this passage. But so are the sentences which precede it: «The victory of socialism in one country does not at one stroke eliminate all wars in general. On the contrary it presupposes war».
A bit different from claiming, as the Stalinists do, that they are in a socialist country, and therefore preparing universal peace! They are in a bourgeois country, and their pacifism is just as hypocritical as the bourgeoisie when they were anti‑1914, then anti‑1939, and now anti‑third world war (1970?). It will end up the same way.
And then there are the sentences that come immediately after: «Engels was perfectly right when, in his letter of 12 September 1882 to Kautsky, he clearly stated that it was possible for already victorious socialism to wage “defensive wars”. He was alluding in fact to the defence of the victorious proletariat against the bourgeoisie of other countries» [“The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution”, September 1916)]. Poor altar boys! In the very writings they are relying on to show us Lenin giving birth to the new theory, the latter, in one of his typically clear explanations, demonstrates that what he is saying was already well known to the Marxists “of the second pre‑imperialist period”, that is, a good 38 years before; and certainly Engels knew all this not because he dreamed it up that autumn evening, but because he was drawing on the ABC of Marxism, which History gave birth to around 1840.
What interests us is the historical context and overall structure of the article. Since we can’t reproduce it all we will give an idea of its powerful framework.
7 – Youthful Exuberance
Lenin had been struck by Grimm’s theses in the Jugend-Internationale. In the minimum programmes of the old parties there was inserted the item: people’s militia, arming the people. The war had rendered this a topical problem, and it is well‑known that the anarchistic trade unions supported the “refusal to serve” argument. Their spokesman at the Stockholm conference in 1907 was Hervé, who had supported the correct thesis of the general strike in a speech which was theoretically disjointed (and was deemed as such by Lenin). So the young left Marxists resolved to replace the slogan arming the people with disarmament. Lenin was against it.
We should recall that among the socialist youth of Italy at that time the anti‑militarist problem was also being discussed at length; and not only on the theoretical level but in high‑profile trials as well. The idealist individualist stance – I am against the spilling of blood and will not take up arms – was condemned as typically bourgeois. When the question touched on Italy’s entry into the war, we stated that by declaring ourselves neutralist we were misrepresenting our revolutionary position: “neutrality” of the bourgeois State was not our goal, nor a role for it as a mediator, or as a proponent of the absurd idea of universal disarmament, a notion no less bourgeois than that of individual disarmament. In peace and in war we said (shameful to admit we weren’t even aware of Lenin): «We are enemies of the bourgeois State and want to strangle it. Following mobilization, whatever the strength of our forces may be, we won’t offer it neutrality, and we won’t disarm the class struggle».
My young friends and comrades, says Lenin, you want to argue for disarmament because that is the clearest, most decisive, most consistent expression of the struggle against all militarism and all war. But you are wrong. It is a premise which is idealistic, metaphysical, and nothing to do with us: for us being against war is the ultimate point of arrival, not the point of departure. The abolition of war in itself is not a slogan we defend. War is one of the historical facts which mark the stages of the capitalist cycle in its ascent and decline: to abolish war is, fortunately, meaningless, if it weren’t it would mean stopping that cycle before a revolutionary outcome was achieved. But that is how we express it. Lenin goes – sometimes too much – for the concrete. He explains the cases when we are not against war.
First of all he goes into the bourgeois revolutionary wars supported by Marxists. For which see our extensive treatments of the subject [Cf. among others the “Fili del Tempo” which appeared in nos. 10‑14/1950 and 4‑6/1951 of “Battaglia Comunista”, the party’s fortnightly publication at that time]. The thesis that in Europe such wars came to an end in 1871, which was formulated by Marx at the time as «the national armies are as one against the proletariat!», is replaced by Grimm with the “obviously wrong” formula of in the era of this unbridled imperialism national wara are not possible. Lenin would have been happy to put his signature to thas if it had been followed by the words in the European camp, between the European powers, prophetically slapping down the apologetics for French and Italian “national liberation” offered in 1945. His counterblast here is that national wars outside of Europe, in Asia, in the East, are still entirely possible, and indeed they still are today.
Secondly, civil wars are wars which will not end until the division of society into classes ends: another exception to the famous “any” wars.
Finally Lenin mentions the future revolutionary war, which is no longer bourgeois but socialist. So, three kinds of just war, i.e., wars we might have to support. According to Lenin, the correct formulation is as follows: «To accept the defence of the fatherland slogan in the 1914‑16 imperialist war is to corrupt the labour movement with the aid of a bourgeois lie». This response, he says, hits the opportunists much harder than any platonic slogan calling for disarmament or against any defence of the fatherland. He proposed adding that henceforth any war waged by these powers: England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, Japan and the United States is bound to be reactionary, and the proletariat must work for the defeat of its ‘own’ government in such wars, taking full advantage of it in order to unleash revolutionary insurrections.
This is a theory which hinges on the entrenched anti‑pacifism of Marx and Engels. So then, Stalinists, what is this new theory? Did the age of full imperialism come to an end in 1939 perhaps? And instead one had to defend the fatherland first in Germany and Austria, deriding it elsewhere – and then in France, England, Italy, in order to save them from Germany? Evidently a third theory is called for, then a fourth and so on ad infinitum; but still the stuck record you love so much spins round and round: the... times... have... changed; the... time... have... changed.
But it is still the same old opportunism, smelling as bad as ever.
8 – Guns and Workers
Since it concerns the youth movement, Lenin, after having said one shouldn’t include the call for disarmament but substitute people’s militia with proletarian militia, points out the importance of learning how to use arms if an insurrection is to be mounted, another point we have been fighting for decades, even if unfortunately we have only seen it applied purely in the service of bourgeois ideologies, in illegal movements, sure, but emanating from bourgeois States and armies. Lenin even mentions the arming of proletarian women. «How will proletarian women react? Only by cursing all war and everything military, only by demanding disarmament? The women of an oppressed and really revolutionary class will never accept that shameful role. They will say to their sons: “You will soon be grown up. You will be given a gun. Take it and learn the military art properly. The proletarians need this knowledge not to shoot your brothers, the workers of other countries, as is being done in the present war, and as the traitors to socialism are telling you to do. They need it to fight the bourgeoisie of their own country, to put an end to exploitation, poverty and war, and not by pious wishes, but by defeating and disarming the bourgeoisie”».
The latter passage is not likely to get quoted by Stalinists. As a matter of fact inviting women to come up with pious wishes is exactly what they do; wishes so pious indeed that they actually invoke Pope Pius XII as the greatest example of a disarmer (and compared to such a rabble, he was a respectable one at that).
In order to get young people to better understand dialectics, which even many oldies still can’t digest, Lenin followed his thesis through, to the point of leaving intact – theoretically – the expression defence of the fatherland and defensive war. One needs to know how to properly interpret a text in such cases. Marxist literature, having established that the catchphrase “against all wars”, so beloved of liberals and libertarians, had no place within it, and that a not always straightforward historical distinction needs to be made between the various wars and different types of war, had nevertheless ended up inheriting, in order to make such distinctions, the common formulation: when attacked you defend yourself. Despite the fact that this is a million miles away from transposing, as do philistines, the piddling little rules of individual morality onto the historical plane, one ended up by calling wars of defence wars which were supported, or at least not sabotaged. It is well known that the First Address of the First International on the Franco-Prussian War contained the expression: On the German side, the war is a war of defence. And in fact it was Napoleon III who had boldly launched the attack. But the fact is that at the end of that historical cycle Marx was more interested in seeing the ruination of Bonaparte than the hated Prussians, and Bonaparte (see the rich harvest of quotations) is considered an ally of the Tsar: nothing would have changed if it was Moltke who had made the first move, and the call had been zur Paris, zur Paris rather than à Berlin! à Berlin!
9 – Fatherland and Defence
So what does Lenin have to say about it, at least in the officially sanctioned Italian translation? [The translation of the citation used here is from the 1964 Progress Publishers English language edition of “The Military Programme”, so it also was officially sanctioned!]. «To accept “defence of the fatherland” in the present war  is no more nor less than to accept it as a “just” war, conforming to the interests of the proletariat – no more or less, we repeat, because invasions may occur in any war. It would be sheer folly to repudiate ‘defence of the fatherland’ on the part of oppressed nations in their wars against the imperialist great powers, or on the part of a victorious proletariat in its war against some Galliffet of a bourgeois State» (General Galliffet, the “Butcher of the Commune”).
We, who would never alter our theory’s “propositions” or “theorems”, but occasionally have the temerity to rearrange their symbols, have italicised the words invasions may occur in any war, to clearly identify our annotation.
Just as the slogan “Oppose all wars” is not dialectical, so no less metaphysical and bourgeois is it to state «We are against wars, unless they are wars of defence, and the national territory is threatened by an enemy invasion, given that the defence of the fatherland is considered sacrosanct by the citizens of every country».
This is in fact the formula of opportunism which explains how on the same day the French and the Germans, in their respective unanimities, voted for national war. The words invasions may occur in any war recalls an article published in Avanti! in 1915, entitled on “Socialism and National Defence” [December 21, republished in “Storia della Sinistra Comunista”, 1912‑1919].
With the stock phrase “duty to defend the nation” you don’t actually just accept some wars, you accept all wars. Once the bourgeois States have issued the order to open fire, ‘over here, and over there’, both territories are in danger; it may happen that one of the armies abandons its own territory for strategic reasons, becoming an “aggressor” in the process, and there are many historical examples of this.
Therefore we draw distinctions between one kind of war and another, and even if we sometimes use popular terms (although in fact we’d like to ban them altogether) such as just or defensive war, to signal a war we support or which we believe to be useful in a revolutionary sense, we are in fact asking ourselves the historical-dialectal question: “ is such and such a war in the interests of the proletariat? Does it, as Lenin put it, conform to the interests of the proletariat?” As regards the war in 1914 the answer was No. Nowhere. And though it was clearly a case of a neutral country being attacked, the Belgian socialists were wrong as well; and the brave comrades in no less attacked Serbia were right.
For example in 1849 Marx and Engels supported Austria, which was plainly the aggressor, against little Denmark, and, as the Trieste report on the Factors of Race and Nation clearly shows, they did the same in all of the wars up to 1870. They would have supported the Napoleonic invasions and rejected the characterization of the German wars at the beginning of the century as just, defensive wars, or even as wars of independence, as the bourgeois and petty-bourgeoisie in general viewed it. Back then it was in the interests of the revolution that the first Napoleon should win, and not the Holy Alliance.
However Lenin is always worried that the party, when making decisions, rather than drawing on the overall perspective of our complete, complex, and never sharply dualistic view of living history, might draw instead on stock phrases, which as often as not are bourgeois. We would find it more exact to say not that in given cases we admit the legitimacy of war and the country defended, but that in given times and places when faced with war we will sabotage it, and in others we will defend it. The word ‘country’ is too a‑classist, and Lenin, in the same more widely distributed 1916 theses, puts a nice slant on the sentence in the Manifesto about countries; and us proletarians not having one.
In any case, it is extremely dangerous to adopt slogans of the ‘Disarmament’ variety and it signifies a total relapse into bourgeois ideology.
10 – Victory in One Country
It wasn’t a pointless digression to comment on the all‑out war which broke out in 1914, even if it involved repeating ideas we have expounded on before, mainly with the aim of emphasising that our theory of war and peace is set and hasn’t changed for over a hundred years. As mentioned earlier, it is strictly linked to our historical theme, the revolution in Russia.
Having explained the two texts by Lenin which condemn two fanciful and stupid ideas: the United States of Europe, and global European disarmament, we return to the point which Stalinists have been so keen to distort: the revolution in one country.
When reading our texts, it should be borne in mind they weren’t written just to fill some gap on a library bookshelf, adding another abstract chapter to an abstract subject or discipline, but arose within the life of a bitter dispute which was the historical substructure of a real battle of opposing forces and interests. We are in a living struggle taking place between Lenin and those who supported the war. It is necessary to follow this robust dialogue that would soon become an armed struggle conducted on several very different fronts.
The Revolutionary Marxists say: In no country can this war be supported, no defence of the war, but in all countries sabotage of the war and also of defence of the homeland.
The opportunists and also the more dangerous centrists hypocritically respond: we are ready to do it. But only on condition we can be 100% certain, while we are stopping our own State’s army from the rear, that the other side is stopped as well. If there is no such assurance, we would merely be defending the enemy’s war.
Is is clear that such an apparently logical objection, as easy to grasp as all of the populist theses the miserable activists are talking to the proletariat about these days, includes bankrupting the revolution. Thus, for example, during the war with Austria, we managed to prevent, through a superhuman effort, the socialist parliamentary deputies in Italy from voting for war credits, but when the collapse of Caporetto occurred, it was only because the bourgeoisie did us the honour of attributing it to our propaganda (how would a Togliatti deal with such a historic problem? Would he say it was to allow the Veneto fall, glorifying Sicily? However nothing ever collapsed thanks to anuthing he did), that our honourable deputies suddenly wanted to vote through the funds for the defence of Mount Grappa, and take the same road the Germans and French had taken in 1914. Whether it was good or bad to have prevented it one cannot say: certainly it cast a spotlight on the opportunist plague, which later needed to be branded with a red hot iron.
Lenin wasn’t the kind of person who would bother to argue such a point. He often said that only an imbecile is incapable of understanding that every revolutionary party has to sabotage the wars of its own State. In truth getting the point over for us was actually much harder and not so straightforward, and taking it forward us a lot about the impossibility of proceeding always by means of crystal-clear expressions; and about the authentic glory of “revolutionary obscurity”, the master of which, in our view, was the great Karl.
However Lenin is unyielding on this point and would give his cast iron demonstrations the unequivocal title: Contro Corrente [Refers to a collection of Lenin’s articles from the years 1914‑1916. These were originally published outside Russia in the “Sozial-demokrat” and in “Kommunist”, and later republished by the Petrograd Soviet in 1918 under the title “Contro Corrente”].
History didn’t allow him, great as he was, to anticipate a horrible possibility: the danger of getting sucked back, powerless and impotent, into the slimy depths of the current; which we all thought had been reversed but unfortunately hadn’t been.
It is necessary to sabotage war on both sides of a front WITHOUT setting the condition that the sabotage be conducted with equal force; without minding if it might even be non‑existent on the other side. It is equally necessary in such a situation, with an enemy army crossing the undefended frontier, to try and liquidate one’s own bourgeoisie, one’s own State, to take power, to install the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Along with “fraternization”, with international agitation, and with all the means at the disposition of the victorious power, the rebel movement within the enemy country will also be stimulated.
The response is simple, as far as Centrism is concerned. But if despite everything such a movement fails, the enemy State and army continues to function, and they go on to occupy the revolutionary country and overthrow the proletarian State, what do you do then?
Lenin had two responses to this: one is from the history of the Commune, which wouldn’t hesitate, having managed to defeat the bourgeois cops of France, to greet the Prussians with cannonades as well, but under no circumstances would it lower the red flag of revolution. The other response to the twisted apologists of the imperialist and counter-revolutionary, bourgeois war, was precisely: war. Our war, revolutionary war, socialist war.
Against the same enemy then? So it’s the same war defended by us? snigger the philistine contradictors. No, because the new war is class war, because it isn’t conducted alongside the bourgeois State and its general staff, already swept aside; because its victory won’t be a victory for any imperialist coalition, but for the world revolution.
11 – Ditched Resolution (La carta cambiata) (1)
This historic point concerns the possibility of a revolutionary manoeuvre by the International against the traitors of 1914, as entirely opposed to what was done in 1939 and 1941.
Opportunism is the watchword of non‑revolution, the class truce within individual nations conceded to all of the belligerents, until war is over.
We will show that it is vulgar sleight of hand to equate this shameful and barefaced traitor’s expedient with the movement’s alleged precautionary adherence to a theory which requires “simultaneous revolution” in every country.
Lenin’s formula is the rejection of this watchword, the rejection of the class truce in all countries, whether at war and or at peace; it presses forward to realise the revolutionary event regardless of whether a State wins or loses, and above all if takes revolutionary advantage of the defeat.
Wherever the reverses of war gave the proletarian party the possibility of doing so, it had to take power: this would need to the policy in Germany, in France – and, of course, in Russia.
France without Germany would have had a socialist government; or Germany without France. Both such governments could have taken resolute anti‑capitalist measures and above all throttled the war industrialists; and then the immediate requirement on the winning side would not be to disarm, but to organize a revolutionary army to stop the capitalist enemy, to stop their own revolution from being stangled.
The building of communism in Russia, or in a prevalently feudal and patriarchal “one” country in general, has nothing to do with the latter thesis, and cannot be based on it: it is something else altogether.
So what should revolutionaries in Russia be trying to achieve? By God, how many times do we have to say it: not socialism, but a democratic republic. The hypothesis of socialism in one country is obvious, but spell it out and it reads: Capitalist country.
So there it is: the ace up your sleeve, Mr Card sharper, has been played.
We have dwelt on the artificial antithesis between two theories, the “old” and the “new”, on the “questions of war, peace and revolution” pleaded in the (official) History of the Bolshevik Party published in Russia.
The author of the new theory on “revolution in one country” is supposedly Lenin, whereas the old theory, typical of the old Marxists, is “simultaneous revolution in all civilized countries”.
We have not said whether this theory is true or false, just that it is a complete fabrication, and that no‑one ever supported it. The old theory coincides with the new. Marx established these points and Lenin defended them. Marxists (excluding those who refer to themselves as such but do not believe in revolution) have always
supported the revolutionary attack even in one country, as a political strategy, as the struggle to take power.
As for the transformation of the social structure into socialism, which using an expression no less theoretically false than the others is called the construction of socialism, whereas it should be called the destruction of capitalism, it has always been considered both feasible and possible even in one country. But under two conditions, set out in crystal‑clear fashion by Marx and Lenin. Firstly: that the capitalism in the country concerned is fully developed; secondly: that the victorious proletariat in that country is cognisant of its role: as the bringer not of peace, but of war!
There is no other theory of war, peace and revolution. The new theories, with one cooked up for every generation, are all of them, Muscovite “History” included, counter-revolutionary.
To demonstrate this we will quote again the passage which invents “the old theory”, and invents the invention of Lenin, who is systematically downgraded from died-in-the-wool Marxist militant to idol for altars and monuments.
“This theory [of Lenin, who, as we reported, according to the text, laid the basis for it in 1905 in his work “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”, thereby threading one more pearl onto its string of historical and theoretical gaffes: how do you found a new theory for an “out of date” problem which refers to Germany in young Marx’s time, and France in Babeuf’s time? According to these counterfeiters, Lenin supposedly expatiated on how to construct socialism by means of the democratic revolution, as though he were the worst ultra‑rightist] this theory differed radically from the idea that was widespread among the Marxists of the pre‑imperialist period when Marxists maintained that socialism wouldn’t be able to achieve victory in just one country, but would triumph contemporaneously in all civilized countries”.
We won’t repeat here our critique of the definition civilized. If the adjective civilized had been replaced with capitalist (referring to the economic structure) or democratic (referring to the political structure), the expression might be less devoid of intrinsic meaning but would be equally misleading. These “Marxists” simply never existed. Marx was undoubtedly a Marxist of the pre‑imperialist period. And so? Either Marx is stupid and Marxism is stupid, or within Marxism, a theory born in 1840, the laws of the imperialist stage of capitalism (n.b. stage not separate period) are already set out. Lenin in fact didn’t produce them as a secretion of his brain, but by applying the doctrines found in Capital. Just read it and you’ll see. Referring to the events of the imperialist stage he gave a further demonstration of our theory of capital, and showed again that it excludes peace between States and classes, and that, just as at its first dawning, the closing of the capitalist cycle will be dominated by the flames of social catastrophe and a general explosion of violence.
Tell us their names! That kind of Marxist never existed. We will go further: nor that kind of generic socialist either!
Ever since it appeared in its utopian-idealistic form socialism wasn’t thought of as international; or even national! It was thought of as socialism in one city, in Plato’s Republic, in Campanella’s City of the Sun, in Thomas Moore’s Utopia (literally “no place”), in Cabet’s Icaria, in the country of the absolute sovereign of the great French utopians, enlightened among his subjects, in Owen’s cooperative factory, in Fourier’s Phalanstery, or if you like, in Benedict’s mediaeval monastery. So was it really Lenin, you bunch of idiots, who put out this stuff as a “new theory”?
This first naïve but noble socialism is considered by its builders – and they actually did build it – firstly as an act of opinion, then of will, transmitted to the people by the wise leader, or even by the great king. Clearly no‑one would subordinate it to a coincidence of these waves of enlightenment in the minds of people in various countries at the same time; even when socialism was utopian it was envisaged within set frontiers, and in the most evocative of these social “projects” the existence of the military strata, the standing army and the defence of the chosen country against the envious enemy, is considered permanent; a concept due more to inertia than being actively maintained, although some ingenious minds, such as the mighty Saint‑Simon, managed to get beyond it.
The transition from Utopianism to Marxism occurred not because the notion of socialism was refined and subjected to a “rethink”, but due to the appearance of capitalist production. Marxism founded its doctrine and programme mainly on the work it did on England. This one country, and it really was just one country, provided a framework for proving that a socialist economy, at a certain stage of commercial-industrial development is not only possible and feasible, but an implacable necessity; the condition for it no longer technical-productive and economic, but just historical, that is, that the ancient bonds, relations of production, and property are shattered and swept away and overcome by uncontainable productive forces, not by brilliant advances in the realm of opinion.
When therefore the theses on the capitalist economy and the more general ones on historical materialism arose, they arose thanks to the dynamics of English society in the 17th and 18th century.
The socialist programme arises not as a millennial prophecy but as a possibility based on already acquired conditions, but only in ONE country: in the strict sense England, without Ireland, where the bourgeois agrarian revolution was still expected, and minus most of Scotland.
At the dawn of the 19th Century France is fully bourgeois but not completely capitalist: France is not an island, but the engine of Europe; its historical task is to extend the flame of the Great Revolution to the west. Only between 1831 and 1848 does the proletariat begin its epic struggle, which is still not constructing socialism, but spreading the revolution eastwards: let us consider the audacious hypothesis that the Paris workers had won in 1848; far more pressing than the task of destroying capitalism at home would have been a revolutionary war against reaction in Europe: still in a broad sense we have the historical problem of the Two Tactics, and not yet the question of whether a socialist France was possible. But for historical reasons, which has nothing in common with the same necessity of waiting for there to be the economic conditions for socialism across the Rhine, across the Danube or across the Alps.
By 1848 however, in the year communism comes of age, we have what they derisively call “the communist Bible”: the Manifesto of Marx and Engels. The question of the proletarian revolution is already fully and insuperably posed: not only is there is no trace of simultaneous revolution in all countries, the idea attributed to the old‑time Marxists, but the socialist revolution in one country is clearly proposed. And not only is it proposed and allowed, it features throughout the whole of the powerful unitary construction, and nor could it be otherwise.
In 1893, in his final years, Frederick Engels dictated the preface to the Italian edition of the Manifesto. Well then, in this short preface there are some historical passages, like the one stating: The Manifesto does full justice to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past. The first capitalist nation was Italy. And Engels dates the transition from the feudal Middle Ages to the modern era to 1300, to Dante’s time.
However, he returns to the situation in 1848, and in recording how from Milan to Berlin and to Paris it was the workers who were first on to the barricades, and in highlighting this trait of European “simultaneity” in the revolution as a war involving all classes, he adds the significant words: “only the Paris workers, in overthrowing the government, had the very definite intention of overthrowing the bourgeois regime. But conscious though they were of the fatal antagonism existing between their own class and the bourgeoisie, still, neither the economic progress of the country nor the intellectual development of the French workers had as yet reached the stage which would have made a social reconstruction possible. In the final analysis, therefore, the fruits of the revolution were reaped by the capitalist class”.
From this we can draw various corollaries – apart from usual one we touched on earlier, of the colossal foolishness of engaging in an anti‑mediaeval struggle in Italy in 1945, or indeed … in the 1955 Sicilian elections. Six and a half centuries of horrendous errors. The first bourgeois metropolis, more than anywhere else was in Sicily: the Palermo of Frederick ll.
In 1848 Engels thinks the socialist transformation of the economy is not possible in ultra‑bourgeois France! He, who had traced out the sure prospect of it from his youthful studies of the English economy!
Therefore the damn construction of socialism was viewed by the oldest Marxists as something that occurred in one country, and no need for Lenin to discover it in 1905 or 1914.
In addition: was the struggle of the Paris workers pointless then? Never! Engels says that the capitalist exploitation of the revolution led to the national formation of Italy and Germany, and he mentions that Marx used to say that the men who suppressed the Revolution of 1848 were its testamentary executors.
Therefore the notion of the proletariat fighting for the capitalist revolution, which has to fight for it, and which should do so if in a position to choose, is also not something Lenin invented in 1905.
What history reserved for the French workers in 1848, it reserved for the Russian workers in 1917: Lenin saw it and theorized it decidedly in advance; the facts of history highlight it today with dazzling clarity: fighting with a developed class organization, and socialist party consciousness, in a proletarian revolution, whereas the outcome of the revolution is the installation of capitalism.
However we will call once again on the content of the Manifesto in this regard, well known though it is.
Need we recall the “systematics” of our historical codex? The first figure to appear on the scene is the bourgeoisie, about whom their worst enemy writes an incomparable “chanson de geste”. The bourgeoisie scours and conquers the world, shakes secular institutions to their very foundations, unleashes huge forces in the realm of human activity, and in diabolical fashion summons up its gravediggers, the proletariat.
The classic enunciations on the “organization of the proletariat into a class, and consequently into a political party” apply to the national framework of “one country”. There is in fact the famous observation: the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle, though in form rather than substance. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.
This famous thesis is then further emphasised in the no less well‑known sentences which follow the passage about workers having no country: “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy [interpreted by social traitors as universal suffrage!], must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself as the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word”.
These words, frequently discussed and greatly distorted at the outbreak of the first world conflagration, succinctly sum up the Marxist theory of power and the State. The bourgeoisie had the goal of constructing the national State – the proletariat has as its aim neither the permanent construction of the State nor of the nation, but, since it has to grasp the weapon of power, and of the State, precisely when it has only gained the collapse (“at first”) of its own bourgeoisie and its own bourgeois State, it builds its own State, its own dictatorship, and constitutes itself as the nation, i.e., it defends its territory against external bourgeoisies, while waiting for them, in their turn, to be overthrown by the proletariat as well.
All this, therefore, is already contained in those first tabulations of how the revolution would come about, working out the hypothesis of the victory in one country as the rulenot the exception, and the theory of it existed from the dawn of Marxism.
How otherwise to read what for a century philistines have been reading back to front, that is the final programmatic part: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible”?
This though is just the beginning of “entirely revolutionizing the means of production” which requires “despotic inroads” and “economic measures that are insufficient and untenable”. Old stuff, for sure. But that is precisely what we need to demonstrate: that the theory of the taking of political power and the transformation of society is not a new theory but an old one. How else could the text have continued than: “These measures will of course be different in different countries”?
And would not the Manifesto add a list of them for the most advanced countries, relevant to the 1848 period?
And how else could the final chapter trace out the prospects, nation by nation, of the revolutionary conquest of power if not by basing them on the concept, which drives everything, that the revolution could begin in any country where the development of production had formed a modern proletariat, and even in Germany before England and France because Germany was on the eve of a bourgeois revolution “with a much more developed proletariat, than that of England in the seventeenth, and of France in the eighteenth century”?
After the disastrous defeat in 1848, the proletarian conquest of power in the European countries became a more distant prospect. In the long period that follows bourgeois nations and States are established in a series of wars; the proletarian parties become less important, and Marxist policy focuses on the wars that lead to the defeat of the reservoirs of reaction, namely Austria, Germany, France and above all and in every phase Russia, something on which we have elaborated at great length.
The new arrangement arises out of the magnificent episode of the Paris Commune. This time the proletariat not only undertakes to overthrow the national bourgeoisie, it actually does so, though faced with two enemies, the victorious Prussian army, and the armed forces of the recently republicanised bourgeois State.
Here the memorable Marxist analysis in the classic works stands out: You wanted to understand the proletarian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist State? Here’s the first historic example: the Commune!
In taking the side of the Commune, did Marx, or any one of the Marxists at the time, ever dream of condemning it because the proletariat in the other capitals of Europe, and especially in Berlin, didn’t take action, as happened in 1848, since clearly the German army would intervene against the socialist State in Paris if the bourgeois forces of France were not enough?
Was there not already a theory of the revolution in one country; a theory, moreover, which was unique, and which had arisen at the height of the pre‑imperialist phase of capitalism? And did not this theory describe the first steps of the social transformation, raised in its classical form by Marx, and by Lenin, following in his exact footsteps, in his well‑known decrees and edicts?
What Marxist, even from less ardent tendencies, ever disavowed the Commune, or suggested it lay down its arms, on the grounds that to have a revolution in France you needed to have one in the whole of Europe?
There were two different positions in the First International at the time, the Marxist and the Bakuninist ones; two “versions” of the Commune, and both unreservedly praised the revolt, its brief life‑cycle, and its glorious fall, and the disgrace and shame of the “civilized” regimes.
Neither of these currents can be linked to the made up theory of the contemporaneous revolution in Europe.
The libertarian view is that the Paris Commune wasn’t a political State, but was responding to the myth of the local commune which, within its narrow compass, liberates itself by rebelling against State tyranny and social oppression by establishing a self‑sufficient collective of free and equal individuals. It is on record why we Marxists consider this, at best, a dream; but we mention it here in order to rule out the idea that this wing of the socialists (socialist anarchists they used to be called) ever believed in the notion of simultaneous revolution: far from it in fact; for them revolution need not even take place on a national scale, but could be on a city, municipal or communal level.
A few years later they would fight to establish anarchy in Spain and in some of its provinces, tortuously asserting that they had neither armies nor States, before succumbing to the inexorable critical demolition of Marx and Engels.
But whatever mistakes they made, not even there can we find supporters of the idea: no to revolution, unless in ten countries at once.
We have then the orthodox, Marxist, version of the Commune, the version which pours scorn on the manipulators of fables and half‑truths, and deserving to be called Leninist.
The Commune isn’t just the twice‑sieged municipality of Paris; it is France, the French proletariat finally formed into a class, which on the banks of the Seine raised the banner of its constitution as the ruling class; which erected the revolutionary State of the French nation. Not a nation in the bourgeois sense and against the German nation, but in the sense that with its cannons it tried to cut off the traitor Thiers from his seat of control over the whole of France; and shedding, in pursuit of this objective, the freely given blood of red Paris, even knowing – as the indigenous executioner advanced – that the workers in Berlin, Vienna and Milan hadn’t picked up their rifles.
It is the theory which in its blazing splendour becomes white hot history; and after the final volleys against the wall of the Père Lachaise had fallen silent, it would become the patrimony and content of the world revolution, its victorious conquest, and it will continue to exist in the general consciousness of Marxists that, one day, from a first victorious national Commune, there will arise the progressive, unstoppable incineration of the world of capital.
It was in 1900 that Lenin’s hated enemies came up with a “new theory” that claimed to be Marxist, a modern version of Marxism; and with this they prepared for the catastrophe in 1914, which according to the fraudsters in Moscow induced Lenin to overhaul all of Marxism’s previous statements on War, Peace and Revolution.
While in the workers’ camp Bernstein and all the others are elaborating a gradualist reformism – itself not new, but rather a horrible concoction of the heresies which Marx fought against his entire life, of the Prussian State socialists, of Lassalleanism, of French social radicalism, of English trade unionism, and so on – the bourgeoisie is meanwhile elaborating its theory of war and peace, relying on the myth of disarmament, arbitration and universal peace. This old stuff too had already been battered by Marx’s hammer blows, when following 1848 he took on the bourgeois radical left, Mazzini, Blanc, Garibaldi, Kossuth and such like, and well we know with what furious indignation he saw them off.
Legalitarian revisionism dismantles the Marxist vision one bit at a time. First of all it throws out insurrection, violence, arms, and the dictatorship. For a brief period a denicotinized “class struggle” is allowed, although it is forced to take place within the bounds of State legality, through winning elections and seats in the political assemblies. The model for this is German social democracy, a monstrous electioneering machine, not above making reprehensible use of one of Frederick Engels’ final utterances: that its distance from power could be calculated from the statistics on the increasing number of votes it obtained. But Engels also correctly observed that once a certain line was crossed, capitalism would resort to terror!
We don’t need to repeat here our critique of this tendency and the prospect it held out: majority in parliament, legal socialist government, a set of progressive laws that attenuate the exploitation of the proletariat and bourgeois profits until a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism is set in motion: nor need we recall how bit by bit, in France, Belgium and elsewhere, the class struggle itself, on paper, was bartered away by accepting the entry of the workers’ parties into bourgeois cabinets as minorities; thereby founding what would be known as ministerialism, possibilism or Millerandism. The Second International condemned it – in peace time – but shamefully threw open its doors to it when war broke out it, unleashing the anathema of Lenin. He couldn’t know that the Third International would also eventually allow and extol such participation not only in war but in peace, the only justification being that it might suit some Nenni or other.
But whatever we may think of this august gathering, can we find amongst them any of these mysterious pre‑imperialist Marxists, who supposedly wanted to conquer power in all of the civilized countries on the same day?
Evidently if the taking of power no longer derives from armed action, action in the streets and the collapse of the very foundations of capitalism, but happens as a result of an increase in the number of “socialist” votes cast instead, it matters not at all whether the glorious day of a socialist premier being elected to power happens everywhere on the same day or not. In fact you can be sure that it will happen in an extremely unsynchronised way and nothing will prevent dozens of regimes, whether they be 100% capitalist, 10% socialist, or 20% so, etc, from living alongside one another, smiling at one another, arbitrating with one another, disarming one other, awarding Nobel prizes to one another, giving Picassos to one another, across the borders.
Not even in this camp then do we find anyone who is against the building of socialism in one country. For if it is to be built bit by bit, by means of laws passed by the bourgeois State, and merely by changing the party that heads it, the requirement of European simultaneity is no longer something anyone need aspire to; and nor did anyone for that matter, ever.
It was not Lenin, but the renegades castigated by him who used the turning point of 1914 to devise a new theory of war, peace and revolution. And they would leave barely a single word of the old theory, of Marx’s unique theory.
Marx said the proletarian revolution is accompanied by civil war between classes and the overthrow of the State – they denied it.
Marx said that war between States would only come to an end with the fall of capitalism and never by means of a general accord between the bourgeois States. They denied it.
Marx said that wars between capitalist and pre‑capitalist States could contain matters of interest to the proletariat and it should participate in them, but that after 1871, within the sector of western capitalism, every army is ranged against the proletariat and this is opposed to all European and inter‑capitalist wars. They denied both the first and second idea and said that in any war between two States the proletariat must support its “own side”, however unlikely it is it will be defeated. They were pacifists as long as there was no war, pro‑war as soon as it broke out.
Lenin restored the processes of peace, war and revolution to the important position they had always held within Marxism. And, as had always been stipulated by Marxism, he called for defeatism and proletarian rebellion everywhere, unilaterally and in one country too, on the battlefield and on the historical course opened by the civil war of 1871.
He didn’t generate a new theory, but wanted to throttle the new theory of social-patriotism.
When from this historic and powerful work of restoration of the not old, but unique, doctrine, they wanted to make arise, as something original, the obvious strategy of attacking the bourgeoisie also unilaterally on the national terrain, as enunciated in the Manifesto and in all Marxist texts, amongst which those on the Commune, for Lenin sacrosanct and fundamental, as indeed are hundreds of his own writings; and when this not new thesis was translated into the notion that without a revolution in Europe you could have a social transformation in a communist sense in Russia, the all‑seeing midwives of the Kremlin attempted an outright substitution of the infant, attributing to the person they considered the Little Father of the revolution in Russia an obnoxious bastard; they didn’t turn him into the destroyer of an outdated theory of non‑existent old Marxists, but the destroyer of a theory which he himself, on the backbone of the general system, had promoted in a truly ingenious way, the essence of which was: in a revolution that doesn’t spread beyond Russia, the proletariat will have to take power, but in order to accomplish the democratic revolution and favour thereby the advent and development of the capitalist system of production, which can only be overthrown when there has been a victorious proletarian revolution in other European countries.
A theory which Lenin constructed with truly astounding thoroughness, whose truth he would see confirmed; which he would never repudiate or retract.
And it is pointless to insult him by insinuating, with outright falsifications, that he did so, given that history has shown he was right about the subsequent phases, which occured in the order he said they would.
The question of the transition of Russia from the republic controlled not by the bourgeoisie but by the victorious proletariat, with a social programme of nationalization of the land and State control of industry, to a socialist economy, is not in its right place if posed at the moment the much earlier problem of liquidating the war arose. When the Second International collapsed the prospect for Russia (even before Lenin learned of the betrayal of various socialists there) appeared no more favourable than it had been before the war. Up until 1914 Lenin was relying on the Marxist workers’ movement in the more developed countries to shorten the course of capitalism in Russia, which by now, it was believed, could not be avoided. But when the mighty German social democracy succumbed to opportunism, along with the other big parties in the industrial countries, it became increasingly unlikely that an anti‑Tsarist democratic revolution in Russia would be followed by a proletarian revolution in the European countries, which would have rendered the socialist transformation of Russia a less distant prospect.
At this key turning point in 1914 we saw how Lenin recapitulated the programme in the Seven Theses.
In Russia, work intently for the country’s defeat, the collapse of its army and its dynasty. The programme that follows remains the same: do not govern with the bourgeois and petty‑bourgeois parties, but run the republic with the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants. Socially such a republic will nationalize the land, bring in the eight hour working day, set up a State bank and put into effect other measures achievable within the confines of capitalism.
In Europe: struggle to eliminate the opportunists, organization of a new proletarian International, new groups and parties to lead the defeatist struggle against the war. Wherever possible, the attempt should be made to take power under the rallying‑cry of the proletarian dictatorship of the communist party.
Only after the war had brought about at least a partial collapse of bourgeois power in Europe would it be possible to address the problem of the socialist transformation of Europe and its support for economic and technical evolution in Russia.
Thus the question of how to make Russia alone socialist wasn’t posed at the moment official history assumes it was by Lenin and posed for the first time and for the first time resolved in a positive outcome: how to build socialism in a Russia emerging from feudalism and surrounded by capitalist countries.
Similar shifts in Lenin’s thinking will require an explanation later on, and explain them we will, namely: at the moment Tsarism fell; on his arrival back in Russia; in the struggle for all power to the one Bolshevik Party; in the period after the conquest of power, to that of the first economic measures and the fundamental shift represented by the New Economic Policy (NEP), this as well nothing “new”, to the extent it was never referred to as such by Lenin.
The very fact of having invented this conversion of Lenin outside of historical time and its appropriate context, of having sneakily brought it forward, demonstrates the false position which underpins the entire policy of the Russian State, after the death of Lenin and the well known events enucleated from the situation.
As this question of the socialist transformation in relation to a conquest of power in a non‑capitalist country has to be posed in general terms, we need to explain it better in order to avoid any serious misunderstandings, and, as always, we need to pay attention to the distinction between the economic and political aspects of the transition from one mode of production to another.
Our resolute defence of the thesis that we never expected to see in Russia a working socialist economy, production and distribution, given its social structure and its feeble economy after the war, may shock some readers who might see in it echos of the opportunist position which for years on end hurled slanderous accusations against the Bolsheviks.
According to Marxism the transformation of the economy of a country into a socialist one cannot get properly underway unless its predominant features are large‑scale industrialisation, big business capitalism, a generalized market economy, and the commercialization of all of its land and products. When these conditions are met, the transformation is not gradual and spontaneous, but, as stated by Marx, Lenin and the revolutionary left, it will not happen without the political revolution, in other words, the violent overthrow of the capitalist State and the founding of the new State of the proletariat, with the Marxist Party clearly at the head of it.
To guarantee the socialist transformation, triggering this political struggle and conquering power is therefore not enough.
However, just as it would be wrong to say that by means of a simple political coup, a putsch of the Blanqui type, we can introduce full socialism in New Guinea, it would likewise be wrong to exclude those situations where we should take power even in the full knowledge on that basis alone the socialist transformation will not take place.
Therefore, those who said: “Bolsheviks! Without the revolution in Europe you will not build socialism” were not wrong. But that wasn’t what the philistines said. They said that as the communists were unable to guarantee the socialist transformation, they should not take power, even if – as history would bear out – they had the capacity to do so; they should instead delegate power to other classes and parties, or at any rate they should support, and put themselves at the disposal of, a Lvov or Kerensky provisional government.
But the Russian communists did not reply that they wanted – and had to – take power because it was the means to make Russia, even on its own, socialist. At that time they weren’t even dreaming of that. They had, and proclaimed to the world, a different set of historical reasons, far more wide‑ranging than the problems of the future Russian economy. It wasn’t a race to administer Russia as if it were a big farm or manufacturing trust. It was a race to expel from power and overthrow political and class forces which would undoubtedly have postponed indefinitely the future Russian and global socialist transformation, further destabilised the country’s contingent economy, and exposed Russia to the serious threat of counter-revolution, not in the sense of keeping a Kerensky or a Miliukov in power, but in the sense of abandoning power to the reactionary governments emanating from the imperialist countries in the German or the Anglo‑French bloc; or even to the resurgent forces of tsarism, which would have reared its head again in its classic role as policeman of the democratic revolution in Russia, and of the proletarian revolution in the rest of Europe.
The only party which had a clear vision of these developments, which was able to face up to these dangers, and which made the impotence and progressive betrayal of all the other parties abundantly clear was Lenin’s. The communists in all countries applauded it when it took all power into its own hands, invited it to keep a firm hold on it, and did all they could to parry the blows of its thousand and one enemies. They didn’t ask it to build socialism, but they did expect – less so the petty bourgeois exiles – to be shown how socialists should live.
And the Russians would have been bound to ask the same of the Europeans. It came, preceded by another clear request: overthrow capital where it is fully mature, take power, proclaim the dictatorship as an intrinsic historical task of the proletariat, of it alone; of the Communist Party.
But if no immediate prospect of socialist production is in sight, and you have to grit your teeth and witness, as though it were new, the capitalist form spreading, is not economic determinism contradicted by the fact is that a socialist political power rests on an economy that is not yet socialist? The argument is a specious one. For a start a genuine socialist economy, once it has emerged from capitalist and mercantile forms, has no need to generate powers, socialist or otherwise: on the contrary, it does without them.
Anyone who gets bogged down in this difficulty has entirely failed to understand the great historical polemic on the dictatorship. We would not be telling the anarchists that the State and dictatorial violence will be needed after the overthrow of the bourgeois State, if we were unable to demonstrate that in a far from brief period in the super‑industrialised countries themselves, the proletariat will be the governing, politically dominant class, while yet remaining economically in large part an exploited class.
The super‑structure of the capitalist mode of production equates with the inertia that exists in the ideology and behaviour of both the capitalists and of those they oppress. It will disappear very slowly, and the revolutionary government has a duty to suppress it.
The precise formula is not that the superstructure of State power differs according to the form of production (absolute monarchy for feudalism, liberal republic for capitalism and so on) but is that established in the pages of the Manifesto: the State is an organ for the domination of one class by another.
The following two situations are therefore plausible: capitalist State which guarantees the domination of the bourgeoisie over the workers; and socialist State which having only just started to eliminate the capitalist mode of production, ensures its destruction by being the organ of the domination of the force of the proletariat over the remaining exploiters. These situations are followed by a third: no more exploiting or exploited class, socialist mode of production, no more State.
If a mode of production, like the Russian one, is for the most part feudal with capitalism established in a few spots, history has realized a case in which the control and rule of a State held by proletarians alone is dedicated to the complete eradication of the feudal mode and does not yet attack the capitalist one; and it is not possible to say when such a conjunctural period will end, it being determined and influenced by all the diverse productive structures in the various countries of a highly complex zone.
But clearly such a period cannot go on indefinitely, and as a matter of fact a time limit was set on it by both Marx and Lenin: it was the time the impure Russian revolution would take to spread to a pure European one, which both thought would be shorter.
The component parties in the same international may historically be handling an impure revolution on one side, and a pure (developed socialist) revolution on the other, or just revolutionary action against the bourgeois powers that haven’t yet fallen. This relation of forces must reach a point where the equilibrium is broken: and reached it was, tipping in the direction of counter-revolution.
But it is really too much to have to put up with those infinitely hypocritical objections to Russian communism disguised as accusations of violation of Marxism. They shout that the terrorist dictatorship of the Bolsheviks was ferocious and unjust using the theoretical pretext that the latter was unable to uproot all bourgeois relations. But if it had done so, how much louder they would have screamed!
In fact those who were scandalized by the communist dictatorship in Russia were those who were scandalized, with the renegade Kautsky at their head, that we wanted to apply it in Europe, ready for rapid socialist transformation though it was.
In reality the arguments were not about the negative aspects and backwardness of the Russian economy, but about a loathsome subjection to bourgeois ideologies, to limitations of bourgeois origin which the proletariat was supposed to impose on itself. We were told we should wait until capitalism was in full bloom, because then the number of workers would be such that the path of persuasion and of the class idyll would lead to a non‑violent victory. It was therefore in the name not of hastening to reach socialist society, but of the “absolute value” of the democratic principle and bourgeois idealism that it was claimed the Bolsheviks had stopped trampling on the parties which, for example, had more votes than them in the “freely elected” constituent assembly.
Now, the condition on which the Bolsheviks could have kept their Marxist credentials intact, and hung on to power in Russia for much longer – although certainly not for ever – was by continuing to declare, as Lenin had always done without pretending otherwise, that they were still unable to build socialism.
And their credentials certainly remained intact on the hundred and one occasions
when, in successive waves of genuine revolutionary action, they throttled the openly counter-revolutionary
forces and stifled the ignoble caterwauling of the defeatists. Because not only did they prevent
an even more unfavourable and counter-revolutionary situation existing today, but they confirmed
the teaching that the sermons and mind‑bending conjurations of bourgeois prejudice won’t necessarily
be powerful enough to stop the hand of the proletariat once it is up on its feet; and that material
power need not be subjected, before its inexorable deployment, to the censorship of its treacherous
adversary, which with power in his own hands would not consider giving it up for a single second
or give a damn about human life, unless it is his own.
We repeat that it was not a digression, but an introduction to our main theme, when [between chapters 4 to 22 in this Part One] we examined the central falsification of that History of the Bolshevik Party which, as Trotski recalls, appeared first anonymously, then as the work of a group of authors, and then finally in Joseph Stalin’s Collected Works.
In order to demonstrate, as we propose to do, that the only framework that exists in Russia is capitalist, not socialist, it was important to show from when it was the attempt was made to switch the thesis (certainly not new theory) of Lenin on the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, for the false one, for which Stalin alone was responsible, of building of socialism only in Russia.
In that exposition we recalled that Lenin had heard that the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and even the socialist revolutionaries, had protested in the Russian Duma against the war and voted against credits. Lenin believed this is in September, and maybe even in August when he wrote the Seven Theses; but it was not so.
The Mensheviks, including Chkheidze and former maestro of the Bolsheviks, Plekhanov, are the leaders, in the Duma and in the emigration, of the “defensists”, whose ranks however also include some non “liquidators”. The Bolshevik workers’ deputies’ group is opposed to the war, and soon its adherents are arrested and deported; but various Mensheviks, including Martov, are also against the war. In the Bolshevik’s own organizations and in the groups abroad there were serious oscillations, and consequently among the deportees in Siberia: Stalin’s stance is much discussed, let’s say it was quite demure, until news reached them much later of Lenin’s stance. Spandarian was the energetic head of the defeatists, before any links were established abroad.
The social revolutionaries split in their turn: against the war, Chernov at the
head of a small group, in favour of it, Avksentyev, Bunakov and many others who formed a group
“Beyond the border”. All of the latter, namely Plekhanov, Peter Kropotkin, Chkheidze and so
on, declared that the war on the Germans was just, defensive and holy, and they called for all
actions against the government and the Tsarist dynasty to be suspended. Not even Chkheidze and
Kerensky had the effrontery to vote in favour of war credits, however.
Even the objective Wolfe, not that orthodox as far as his theoretical line goes, is pleased to insist on the fact – for us not that significant – that the division between defeatists and defensists in 1914 did not coincide with that between revisionist-reformists and radical orthodox Marxists. To the famous example of Kautsky he counters Karl Liebknecht, who was a “left Bernsteinian”, while later Bernstein himself was among the first to deplore the abandonment of the “old Marxist tactic” (here well said) of the vote against war credits. But a series of other well-known orthodox Germans were chauvinist: Parvus, Lensch, Cunow, Haenisch. In England the extremely right-wing labourites Snowden and MacDonald voted against credits; in favour was Hyndman, leader (according to Wolfe) of the orthodox Social Democratic Federation. The British Socialist Party, which had none of its members in parliament, was decidedly against the imperialist war.
We will close the inexhaustible subject of the pre-war socialists with Wolfe’s cutting remark: “the soft-minded humanitarians inclined to pacifism while many a tough-minded ‘historical materialist’ [the quotes are Wolfe’s, a clearly idealist historian] flung himself heart and soul into the war” (B. Wolfe, op cit., p.698, Three Men who Made a Revolution, 1966).
Quite right! Wolfe didn’t put Mussolini on the list. We could have told him that Mussolini was an idealist who was conned, or who conned himself, into following revolutionary materialism. An idealist is neither a radical Marxist nor a reformist Marxist. He is just somebody not following the same path as us. Historically Gramsci helped us by providing a thousand good reasons to expel Turati. Theoretically however, and it is always a bad thing to keep quiet about this, Gramsci was less orthodox than Turati.
It is the general tendencies that interest us: persons and names are only helpful as a didactic mnemonic; maybe we’ll be partly to blame if it all becomes a bit indigestible. We have wanted to give an account of the struggle between defensism and defeatism. That was indispensible before we could pass on to the other antithesis between “uni-constructionism” and… communism. Social chauvinism and cominformism are not interpretations of communist theory; they are just some of the many ways of abandoning it. A very bad journey, gentlemen!
Anyway, what is neither right nor left is the Kremlin’s historical method: self-promoting historicism. The whole of the Bolshevik Party was solidly against the war. Whereas in fact the trial of the Duma deputies, arrested with Kamenev went badly, and equivocal statements were made, arousing the ire of valiant comrades Spandarian and Sverdlov (dead both of them without a stain on their names) the History brands Kamenev alone. Kamenev did indeed lead the Duma group, and didn’t prevent it on 25 July from issuing a very equivocal joint declaration with the Mensheviks, which talked of defending the people against every oppression, whether domestic or foreign. Lenin didn’t know about it: but what was clear was the gravity, immensely greater, of any act of solidarity, however vague, with the defensive war in autocratic Russia with respect to the western countries.
The historic fact, nevertheless, that all of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties
gave respite to the Tsar as soon as he set off to war is just one more proof of Lenin’s historic
construction: it is only the proletariat that can overthrow tsarism and feudalism, to make that
revolution that is not its own. In February 1915 the Duma greeted the ukase [decree] of its
long-term dissolution with a loud cheer for the victory of the imperial armies!
The capitalist leaders of the democratic nations were certain that the Muscovite steamroller, so often drawn up under the walls of the western cities to crush revolutions, would be set inexorably in motion to loosen the grip of the German armies descending on Paris. But the last time the Russian military machine had been tested on western battlefields was many decades before. Since then war, and the means to fight them, had been transformed by modern technology; their huge reserves of manpower, their mass of mounted soldiers no longer counted for much, and the loans from the French bankers and of other nations were happily gobbled up without much to show for them in terms of modern armaments.
The Germans detached a few corps from the western front, taking advantage as usual of their internal lines, and pulled them back to eastern Prussia, but before they reached the Russian front Samsonov’s army had already been crushed with colossal losses by Hindenburg’s brilliant manoeuvre at the Masurian Lakes, and by the superior martial organization of the Germans. The Bourgeois in France and Russia nevertheless exchanged compliments for this lightening of the pressure on Paris, analogous incidentally to that obtained by the Russians in Stalingrad after the huge massacres in the Second World War.
Old comrades may recall a cartoon by Scalarini in Avanti!: Nicholas’s claws tighten around Berlin, Wilhelm’s around Paris. The Masurian lakes and the Marne transformed everything.
Meanwhile in the Russian cities there was a waning of that wave of enthusiasm which had seen students, and some plebeian elements from the revolutionary strata of 1905, singing the war’s praises and kneeling to sing tsarist hymns. The generals attempted to redeem themselves in the Caucasus, by driving back the Turks, and in Galicia by smashing through the Austro-Hungarian front in August as far as Leopolis [Lviv], and in Spring they arrived at the fortress of Przemysl, the key to the Carpathians. But in the Summer of 1915, an overwhelming counteroffensive along the whole of the Austro-German front reached as far as Riga and Warsaw.
The military, civil, administrative and economic disorganization that spread throughout Russia was frightening: highly priced provisions in the countryside, an industrial crisis, a transport system threatening to seize up, and extreme dislocation of the State’s finances. Soon their western allies began to get worried about it as well.
Over the course of 1916 what remains of Russia’s potential is, at the request of
the allies who assist with money and supplies, employed in a series of offensives which are
either useless or of short duration, and whose aim is to reduce the pressure being exerted by
the Austro-Germans on the Western Front. Moscow no longer dictates its will by throwing its
massive military might into the balance but serves as a buffer whenever it pleases the modern
despotism of big capital.
The lessons of the first great universal war start to make an impact, and yet an entire cycle will go by and another great war will arrive and overwhelm the continents, without the swindles engendered by opportunist superstitions being avoided. The binomial so dear to bourgeois rhetoric, which associates despotism with military strength, autocracy with invincibility, and which portrays capitalism’s modern liberal States as pacific and defenceless and ill-adapted to all-out war, is resoundingly refuted as the first global conflict unfolds. France, England, Italy itself, and then America involved, countries all laying a claim to freedom and parliamentary government, emerge from the war virtually intact, and with advantages and conquests to boot. First to surrender is Russia, followed by “feudal” Germany, Austria, and Turkey, even though they had adopted modern industrial technology for military purposes to a far greater extent than Russia. Napoleon was invincible not because he was a despot, but because he acted under the impetus of the democratic revolution which first created the citizen soldier; because he was in control of the army of the Convention of 1793, which first instituted military conscription, fully relevant at the time, to defend the revolution and the country.
A lie was therefore crushed, which unfortunately later regained an immense amount of lost ground later on, namely that in order to put a stop to militarism you have to worship democracy. The two things actually go hand in hand as Athens and Rome had already shown (they were slave societies, but the slave was forbidden to bear arms).
Even if drawn from a propaganda publication, it is interesting to see how the effects of the 1914-18 war were mirrored in the “national wealth” of the countries involved. Russia down to 40% compared to the 1913 figure, Austria down to 55%, Germany 67%, France 69%, England 85%: the national wealth of Japan and America increased! Exchange rates against the dollar in 1918 were: Japan up 1%, England down 2%, France down 12%, Italy down 20%, Germany down 23%, Austria down 33%, Russia down 40%!
We shouldn’t therefore be saying that democracy is not militarist, but rather the opposite: the more democracy there is, the more militarism there is and the greater the potential for war.
So the inevitable conclusion presented itself of its own accord: Russia is no longer the decisive military factor in Europe. What is to be done to make it more effective in war? Democratise it!
Did we maybe diminish Lenin when we commented that he worked for an entire historical
period to plant “democracy” in Russia? Those quick to condemn him pose this dilemma: if the
capitalists in the West and in Russia are fighting for democracy in order to strengthen Russia’s
military capacity in the war, and to win it – and Lenin and the communists are fighting for
this historical transition [to democracy] to be completed, but their goal is defeat. Which side
did history prove to be correct?
Following the series of setbacks suffered by the Russian army there arose an entire movement dedicated to plotting within the ruling spheres on the domestic front and within the diplomatic corps: discontent about the serious errors and general administrative chaos won over ever new strata; these circles predict above all that the extreme corruption of the tsarist regime and the deep economic depression will inevitably arouse the masses who had started to manifest their intolerance, not only about the way the war was being conducted, but against the war itself, and for it to end.
The industrial bourgeoisie, who had become more important because of the war, called for a new government which wasn’t dominated by the court cliques and landed nobility. The liberal parliamentary parties and the Kadets [popular name for the Constitutional Democrats, or K.Ds] who had flaunted their solidarity with the government begin to get restless. Their leader Miliukov delivers a pompous address on the subject: stupidity or betrayal?
Whereas corruption in the imperial court was demonstrated by the famous episodes of fanatical enthusiasm for the monk Rasputin and the well-known influence of the Tsarina over the faint-hearted Tsar, Russian capitalists and foreign diplomats had caught wind of a tendency among the reactionary forces which wished to make a separate peace with the Germans. On each side it was decided to act without delay, while for their part the masses and even the soldiers at the front were rebelling ever more frequently.
Even those opposed on most matters now agreed that previous initiatives and international meetings had proved ineffective, and that the ambassadors of France and England were secretly pulling strings to bring about a bourgeois democratic government and the deposition, if not of the dynasty, of Tsar Nicholas.
The replacement of Sazonov, minister of foreign affairs with strong connections to the west, with extreme right-wing elements would ratchet up the tension even further.
On 15 December 1916 Rasputin is assassinated by aristocrats in a palace plot which aims to ward off the regime’s collapse.
At the beginning of 1917 there increasingly take shape preparations for a coup d’etat
by the nobility and big bourgeoisie, the aim being to depose Nicholas and to nominate his ailing
son Alexis as Tsar; and as concerns power they consider appointing prince Lvov. It seems the
English ambassador Buchanan was behind these moves. But popular action took the plunge and the
various parties of the parliamentary left were forced to speed things up; which they did, in
truth, with complete success, constituting a power entirely controlled by the bourgeoisie, while
the petty-bourgeois parties and social-defensists did a magnificent job of keeping the proletarian
forces at bay.
If it is true that the Bolsheviks were the only ones to engage in intense work among the masses to bring down the government, by stirring up workers, soldiers, sailors and even the women in the food queues, by leading the general strikes and by placing themselves at the front of the crowd in several bloody clashes with the police, just as true, as regards Lenin’s revolutionary ‘scheme’, is that they were tricked and didn’t know how to apply it consistently.
The instructions were supposed to be, as we recall from the lengthy analysis of Lenin’s writings in 1905 (at our Bologna meeting): mass action on the streets, not agreements between parliamentary parties – overthrow of the dynasty, not constitutional government; republic – democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants, i.e., not agreements with parties on the left which would also make agreements with the bourgeoisie.
In Lenin’s view this historical phase was still a bourgeois revolution in the hands of the proletariat and the peasants.
February 1917 was not that; it was instead an earlier, extremely volatile phase, rendered possible only by the war and the foreign powers. Suffice to recall that the proletarians (Bolsheviks) and the poor peasants (Left S.R.s) remained in opposition, and at a certain point were outlawed.
October 1917, which we will examine later, was, in an immediate sense (and more than that as well as we will see) the Leninite phase, that is, the democratic revolution in the hands of the proletariat.
February can be defined straightaway: democratic and bourgeois revolution in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The dateline of events is well known (with dates given in the calendar we use which is 13 days ahead, so not in February).
Mensheviks and social revolutionaries would subsequently enter the government: the Bolsheviks took an unclear position, and Pravda published articles by Kamenev that would later arouse Lenin’s indignation: in essence they not only failed to define the Lvov government as counter-revolutionary but offered it support, albeit conditional.
The bourgeoisie, having got the proletariat to overthrow the tsarist forces, were now one hundred per cent successful in clinching the contest for power.
This was due solely to the action and the historical role of the opportunist and
petty-bourgeois parties, as “Lenin’s plan”, sketched out over a long period, had perfectly summed
It was very clear that the whole of the right wing or, more precisely, almost the whole of the provisional government, was composed of supporters of the war and friends of the western allies. They had been persuaded to overthrow the tsar’s government, to which in 1914 they had offered full national solidarity, for the sole reason it was suspected of pro-German defeatism which would sabotage the country’s full potential, and now it was logical for them to direct every effort towards the resumption of hostilities at the front.
No less logical was it that that part of the proletarian parties, who in 1915 had proved to be shamelessly “defensist”, should support the same policy and approve of the war, which by now had acquired a democratic virginity.
The members of those parties which, even when not defeatist, had at least opposed the war, but who now embraced the policy of the continuation of the war and defence of liberated Russia, showed that they had nothing in common with the condemnation of the imperialist war “on all sides”, and that it was bourgeois reasons, not Marxist ones, which had kept them from marching off to war, for as long as the tsar was directing it.
But was perhaps the position the Bolsheviks took as regards this historical alternative perfectly clear? What had changed? Should defeatism continue, or should they move to another phase because one had a “democratic fatherland” now? Unfortunately they were far from making a sound choice.
And yet even before the war question arose, the period of euphoria, in which for example there the veterans of the Siberian deportation, such as the taciturn Stalin, and the highly eloquent Sverdlov and many others met up, and there was rhetorical fraternisation between populists, trudoviks, social revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, shows that the theoretical evolution of the movement fell far short of the powerful roadmaps which were sketched out in Lenin’s work and in the battles fought at the congresses.
At the time of the “Two Tactics”, and of many other sharp polemics, Lenin had rightly branded not only every type of populist, but also the Mensheviks, with the inevitability of their counter-revolutionary fate.
The Mensheviks had posed as intransigents, maintaining that the proletariat couldn’t insist on taking power in Russia as it was the bourgeoisie who must do that; we will not govern, at most we can ‘monitor’ (a word which infuriated Lenin) the democratic power.
They made out that Lenin was an opportunist for bluntly stating: it is we who must take power as a provisional government in the democratic bourgeois revolution on condition we concede not an iota of power to the bourgeois parties. And what is more, let there be no more talk of monarchy.
The dispute, despite the lies spread via Stalinist channels, was never about us taking power in order to build a socialist Russia. Heavy hitting adversaries like Plekhanov would of course immediately responded: but if we are talking about that historical objective, then we are for taking power as well.
Lenin – and it is as well to constantly emphasise this – said that it was necessary to take power because history offered no other way of avoiding a counter-revolutionary victory. Evidently in a potential sense taking power derives from the necessity to advance historically towards socialism, towards the Russian and the world revolution, but it is always suggested in a potential sense and not as the immediate and present content of the historical struggle.
At this point even Trotski had not yet found his bearings. When Lenin pointed out the rightism of the Mensheviks, he agreed. However, when the Mensheviks, with staggering hypocrisy, attacked a Lenin who was making the proletariat fight for too little, Trotski, who as an ardent militant dreamed only of struggle, was perplexed; although later on he would understand the powerful dialectics of Lenin’s construction, and understand it in earnest. In any case we will use him as an impeccable witness to the fact that what Lenin wanted was this: the bourgeois democratic revolution, as long as it was not an abortion and parody of a bourgeois democratic revolution. As a steely determinist, the accusation of having wished for too little made him laugh. In reality he had given a terrible example, as the anglo-saxons would put it, of how to write the history that is yet to come.
So, the minute the Mensheviks reveal their true colours, and though declaring that they were only negotiating about liberty, democracy, and democratic war, never about immediate socialism, ENTER the bourgeois government, every red-blooded Bolshevik should have grabbed them by the throat and declared war without quarter on them. But neither Kamenev, Sverdlov, Stalin or anyone else did so. Apart from the war question – which they knew had been resolved by Lenin and by uncorrupted Marxism over two years earlier – they also failed in their duty towards a party that had taken such trouble to define what its tasks should be during those hours which had struck so gloriously on the clockface of history.
This group, despite the great merit they had accrued in the insurrectional struggles,
fell short as regards the problem of the relations between the social classes and the political
parties in Russia. That the party which had explained the historical doctrine so brilliantly
should fall down when it came to action was indeed a serious matter.
This was also due to the war situation. Indisputably so. But to the error regarding Russia’s internal dynamics there corresponded a similar error regarding the dynamics of the international forces, of the global imperialist conflict.
For the late-lamented Karl Marx, if he follows things from the next world (for us materialists, he surely is following them, but from the place-time when he was alive, and there is Vladimir – oh go ahead, laugh – to shout what he would have shouted) the most horrible moments must surely be, having explained so often that dialectics is the key to history, when he sees “Marxists” who are apparently totally oblivious of it, and their adversaries seemingly knowing it inside out.
The group of bourgeois parties in the pre-war period (whose movements were closely tracked by Lenin) were very definite that they would never launch an attack on the feudal government and that they would avoid the awkward stage of the “illegal” transitional government, and they only set aside this judicious assessment because losing the war would have spelled ruin for powerful Russian and international capitalistic interests, and would certainly have provoked violent movements at the expense of the propertied classes, resulting in an intense civil war. They therefore followed the road that could avoid complications of this kind, the road to German defeat in the world war.
Apart from everything else, this was consistent with the purely bourgeois requirement of exalting national values at home, as in all the other bourgeois revolutions in the nineteenth century. If, therefore, they followed the path of Germandefeat, that is, of the victory of western imperialists bound together by important business interests, it is clear that from the anti-tsarist revolution was bound to emerge not an end to the war, but its revival in an extra-virulent form fuelled by “national enthusiasm”, and a surmounting of the defeatism being plotted by hysterical Tsarinas and dishevelled Rasputins.
The provisional government didn’t hesitate to take this road. Who could have stopped them? The Soviet, with its dualist power. But what dualism of powers! Power is not to be shared, just as the bourgeoisies in the west hadn’t shared it with the deputies from the workers’ parties who voted for war credits or who joined the ministries: to these reprobates was given status and honours, but no more than that. And so it was with the Cheidzes and Tseretellis, the Martovs and the Chernovs.
To get back on the right road was reading Lenin’s text really too much to ask, or to hear echoing in one’s head the tough, unvarnished speeches he made over the course of ten congresses and conferences; or even without reading the theses, to have read the articles and the pamphlets dictated after the 2nd International’s shameful 1914?
And if the Belgian and French socialists had been pilloried, what doubt was there that by the same token the Russians who had given national solidarity to a post-tsarist republic should be as well?
To hesitate on this meant to be subject to purely bourgeois and nationalist ideology, to draw a parallel between the defence of the country by the Convention and the epic of France’s Thermopylae, to not have understood a damn thing about anything Marx wrote, or Lenin’s Imperialism, or about the Marxist-Leninist distinction between wars of revolutionary defence and the contemporary, abhorrent and shameful war of the imperialist powers, that certainly stunk no less after the Romanovs had gone, nor by acquiring the cachectic face of Woodrow Wilson.
These in fact are precisely the arguments which the Italian reformists wanted to utilise after the collapse at Caporetto to give their support to the war effort; and often we have recalled the blood, sweat and tears involved in holding on to them.
Were these then rock-hard Bolsheviks, firmly loyal to the party, with bloody red
revolution running through their veins? Not a bit of it!
Need we recount again the story of Lenin’s journey from Switzerland to Russia and his triumphant arrival? Perhaps not, and yet we will, because the events are very instructive, and so great is the danger that easy sentimentalism, or its condescending ally, a sly and despicable scepticism, will conclude: there is nothing to be said; it all depends on one man, on one man’s brain, and History’s great movements only break out when the dice have been thrown, and from the many idiots discharged from the uteruses of the world, one guy is selected “who is always right”.
The news Lenin has received when he sets out is only partial, but during the journey, and especially after crossing the border, or rather the front, he gets to know more. In his hands are copies of Pravda edited by Stalin and Kamenev, which he angrily shows to his travel companions, perhaps terrified he’d tear them up.
Trotski recounts that Kamenev, one of Lenin’s most devoted disciples, to the point he even mimicked his gestures and handwriting – not a man to mimic for sure – went to meet him, and felt he was badly treated. Raskolnikov, another sound head, recounts that Lenin came in and sat down on the couch: “What have you people been writing in Pravda? [he must surely have used the term equivalent to “what the f…?”]. We are very angry with you!” From then on whoever came into range got a similar greeting, up to the famous speech to the crowd, from the armoured car.
We will emphasize the gulf that had opened up between the mentality of the comrades who had remained in Russia and Lenin’s interpretation of things. In the first place, in order to dismantle one aspect of the theory of his Hypnotization of the masses, we will point out what a great advantage it is to be able to look at these important matters from a distance (both spatially and timewise). Lenin gets off the train in Petrograd. He doesn’t even look round, no-one is stupid enough or has the nerve to say: get yourself settled in first. The representatives of the government, false and obsequious, come to greet him in the great station’s imperial lounge. He can’t stand Cheidze, who delivers a welcoming address, offering him unity with the Mensheviks in the “revolutionary democracy”. In the party meeting, a few days before, Stalin had showed that he was prepared – as we will see – to welcome a similar initiative from Tseretelli.
Lenin didn’t even respond with a no, but resolutely turned his back on the official delegation (merely shrugging his shoulders would have been too respectful), walked to the station entrance, entered the square to much applause, and hoisted himself up onto an armoured car. Maybe no text of the speech exists. Everyone refers to excerpts from it: … I greet you as the advance guard of the proletarian army… this war of imperialist plunder is the start of the civil war throughout Europe… The world socialist revolution has already dawned… any day, maybe tomorrow, capitalist imperialism may collapse once and for all… The revolution achieved by you was a start, it opened a new epoch: Long Live the Worldwide Socialist Revolution!
That speech, and Lenin’s later appearances at the party headquarters and at the
conference of the following day, as amply documented in the April Theses, not only left the
so-called “leaders of the revolution” lost for words, but, if all the testimonies are correct,
“turned the heads” of the best workers and leading Bolshevik intellectuals. Following his overwhelming
critique, nothing was left of the tactics followed up until that point. The new proposals descended
like a crash of lightning on his astounded and disorientated audience. Those who heard Lenin
speak, without oratorical emphasis, and many of those who didn’t hesitate to contradict him,
can say how whatever he said appeared obvious and relevant to everyone, including those who
had never heard him before. Those who were least skilled in Marxist dialectics were always the
most astonished of all. What he says is impossible! But it is so clear and evident that not
a syllable can be refuted…
The newspaper reports of the speech on the 3rd April were greeted with general astonishment; not only by his opponents, but by the cadres of the Bolshevik party; and this continued during the meeting on the following day when Lenin gave a more in-depth presentation, showing no interest in the topics and resolutions on the agenda, but dashing off there and then the famous theses, on which Stalinism would try to base his gigantic falsification, and which trotskists would misunderstand, claiming that Lenin had revolutionized the “old” Bolshevik tactic of 1905. But in fact, what Lenin brings to Moscow is the underlying argument of the Two Tactics without changing a thing, and it’s just that Trotski only finally grasps its revolutionary significance (having arrived on the scene a little later). The falsification is this, that it is not at all to do with passing from the bourgeois revolution to the “socialist transformation” but rather more exactly of passing from the “Menshevik tactic of the democratic revolution” to the communist and “revolutionary tactic” during the democratic revolution.
This is demonstrated in crystal clear fashion in the text of the Theses of April Fourth and by Lenin’s reports to the conference on the 24th and over the following days, during which Lenin constantly repeats: “it isn’t yet about installing socialism”, but rather of not acting like opportunists in the bourgeois revolution.
For now, however, we will linger over the testimonies to this general astonishment, which, if there had been a real Marxist party functioning as it should, would have been replaced by the simple statement: he is saying what he has been saying for twenty years, and we were idiots to have taken a different path, on the ground of the usual prejudice that new and unexpected situations required it.
Their opponents can hardly have been surprised: their statements merely expressed fierce disappointment that their clever snare, laid at the heart of the soviets to entrap the Bolshevik fraction, had been severed with one blow.
Plekhanov, who as a theoretician must have recognized the Lenin as he was when he himself was with him, makes out, good renegade that he was, that he heard those things first time round. He is like the Italian supporters of Togliatti who to some indignant old comrade reply: can you still be coming out with that old stuff from 1921! His expressions are very similar: This speech is a farcical dream, it is the ravings of a madman. The Mensheviks, having made the sign of the cross, discover that Lenin “is inciting a civil war”! Cheidze is a more formidable opponent: Lenin will stay out of the revolution, while we will follow in its path. Great prophets! Tseretelli states that if they had taken power they would have ruined everything and destroyed – wait for it – the proletarian International!
These people had already drooled over the way out provided by the Germans, before
dashing off to see if Lenin, after so many years, would offer them his hand on which to throw
themselves weeping with emotion; spurned, they came back spitting venom. All this is classic,
we well know, and there is no need to go into it further. But what is important is the disorientation
of even the comrades in the front line, totally ignored in the official History, which
as usual only slings mud at Kamenev, Rykov, Bukharin and others from the gallows platform of
twenty years later. Let us listen to the testimonies gathered by Trotski. “There was no discussion
– he said – All were too stunned for that. No one wanted to expose himself to the blows of this
desperate leader” (here he veers on the side of fiction a bit: a leader not desperate, but angry,
to not use a slightly stronger term, and yet on a resolute doctrinal march from the past to
a clear-cut future, at that particularly fecund turning point; one of the very few in which
the catalysing action of that mere corpuscle that is the leader acts on an entire
collectivity). Trotski continues: “they whispered among themselves that Ilyich had been too
long abroad, that he had lost touch with Russia, that he did not understand the situation, and
worse than that, that he had gone over to the position of ‘trotskism’”. Here the great Leon
is guilty not of vanity, which one wouldn’t expect from him, but of bounteous naivety: it was
Trotski who finally discovered Lenin, not the other way round. Trotski with his eagle eyes did
not witness that scene, but he knew that the blue, ultra-penetrating, eyes of Lenin, at that
moment, blazing, seemed to be quietly saying: not only is it such and such, but you should recognize
that every faithful sucker knows it already. Nobody’s head is set spinning just by being told
things they didn’t know before, but only when they have the sensation of ‘how come this wasn’t
said right at the start: how could we ever have thought otherwise? We used to know this off
There are other references to this sensational brain-washing operation; an operation entrusted not to ruthless cops or Freudian sorcerers, but to material forces during certain historical crises as they come to a head, which myth, the maker neither of dreams nor farces, but laborious interpreter of palpable facts, used to express with the sacred words: He is the Word: he has spoken, and the light has entered into us! (oh, materialist Plekhanov, how deep have you fallen!). And the references are as follows.
When Lenin said: I propose to change the name of the party to the Communist Party, not even Zinoviev, who had just arrived with him, supported the proposal! The Bolshevik Angarsky wrote: ‘It must be openly acknowledged that a great many of the Old Bolsheviks maintained the Old Bolshevik opinions on the question of the character of the revolution of 1917 and that the repudiation of these views was not easily accomplished’. And Trotski writes: ‘As a matter of fact it was not a question of ‘a great many of the Old Bolsheviks’ but of all of them without exception’. Well, no Angarsky, no, Trotski. Maybe it was all of them (but despite a lack of alternative sources from which to make a reconstruction, it is difficult to believe that Krupskaya, let’s say, and who knows who else, did not accept it without flinching) but actually it was the matter of laying claim to the “old theses of 1905” as they stood, point by point. It is these coincidences, not the power of one human brain, however much light emanates from it, which when linked to the forces of the historical subsoil have the power to shake an entire epoch.
But it was Markov, a worker from the Urals, “whom the revolution had found at his lathe”, who spontaneously gave the assessment that was theoretically correct: “our leaders were groping until the arrival of Vladimir Ilyich. Our party’s position began to clarify with the appearance of his famous Theses”.
Bukharin, too prone to flaring up, recalled after Lenin’s death that a part of the
party considered the theses as a betrayal of Marxist ideology! Ludmilla Stahl wrote: ‘Our comrades
were content with mere preparations for the Constituent Assembly using parliamentary methods
and did not even consider the possibility of going further. By accepting Lenin’s word we shall
be doing that which life itself is urging us to do’. Very well. But we will show that that word,
which condemned the universal suffrage Constituent Assembly in the bourgeois Russian revolution,
was printed back in 1905.
Since a certain elephantine global co-ordinating body did such a great job of creating the myth that only Stalin accepted the April line straightaway, (whereas Pravda, when edited by him and Kamenev, stated that the ‘pravdas’ [truths] of Lenin (poor little fellow!) were merely personal opinions) let us quote a last non-trotskist witness.
This is not the first time we have referred to it, but it is useful and pertinent to the subject under discussion. At the enlarged executive of the Comintern in February-March 1926, during a meeting on the Russian question (the Trotski-Zinoviev-Kamenev opposition was forming), the debate on which was prevented from being brought to the plenary session on the grounds that the opposition itself had requested as much for fear of being even more severely chastised, a delegate from the left of the Italian party asked Stalin whether it were true that at the 1917 meeting, when discussing the stance to be taken on the war, Lenin had included him, Stalin, among those against whom he directed epithets of the type “Russian chauvinist”, “Cossack nationalist” and such like. As the embarrassed young interpreter remained silent, Stalin ordered him to translate the question for him, raised his head, and clearly said: da – yes, it is true.
On one occasion (in fact at that same executive meeting) during an attack on the lefts, Stalin made a triple distinction: when it is comrade X speaking, it is always a lie – when it is comrade Y, it is sometimes true, sometimes a lie – when it is comrade Z (the Italian delegate) it is always true, even if the conclusions he draws are wrong.
The witness we have quoted is Stalin himself, via he who according to him (see the report printed in Moscow) never bore false witness. And to him be given due credit for not wishing, even if monosyllabically, to lie either.
That would not be enough to condemn anybody, if even Jesus Christ had to tell his first lieutenant, Peter, that before the cock crowed, he would deny him thrice.
To us materialists it cannot be said: you will be with me in Paradise! History, and
its theory, towers above us all, big and small, famous and unknown. It is its path alone that
There is no doubt that the arrival of Lenin in Russia, and the April Theses, which would follow within 24 hours, mark a historical turning point, a fundamental stage. But this must not be understood in the sense that they send out a new message to the world, give a new version of revolutionary dynamics, or that from that moment, as we wrote so long ago in these texts, the revolutionary socialist vision had been changed. The simplistic version, as though from a professorial chair, is that for the entire world proletariat the syllabus had changed. No more struggle, victory and attainment of power by the wage-earning proletariat as the springboard for the destruction of capitalism, and for the freeing of the productive forces in order to steer them towards the communist order: but struggle, victory and the attainment of the State by the people, by proletarians and semi-proletarians, workers and peasant proprietors: this then the banal and pedestrian interpretation whose lesson supposedly needs to be learnt by the proletarians in the west; in countries, that is, where capitalism has matured and is in an advanced state of decay before being violently put to death!
The turning point does not concern a capitalist country yielding to the process of socialist revolution, but a country with a decaying feudalism, in the throes of a bourgeois and popular revolution.
The April turning point is a powerful grabbing of the helm of the Bolshevik ship which was succumbing to the waves of petty-bourgeois opportunism, and which had strayed off the course that needs to be followed in a bourgeois revolution; it was a grabbing of the helm that required the eagle eyes and Herculean efforts of its steersman, but didn’t require him to plot a new unknown course, but rather to simply follow, and get others to follow, the course that was already indelibly marked on the navigation chart of History.
Everything that Lenin proclaims and sets down on paper in those historic theses is terribly against what they were doing in Russia; not only against what the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties were doing, but what the workers’ parties and his own one were doing as well. But at the same time, he is fiercely conformist to everything that had already been written, to the course mapped out by Marx and Engels in 1848 and a hundred times confirmed; and to the course traced out by Lenin himself from 1900 onwards for Russia. Impatient People who go weak at the knees at the mention of new, modern directives need only understand this: we defend the immutability of the course, but not its rectilinearity. It is full of difficult twists and turns. But these are not whims that arise in the head the capo, of the Leader, as Trotski himself puts it. Leader in fact means driver. Just because the leader of the party has the steering wheel in his hands doesn’t mean he has the arbitrary power to go in whatever direction he chooses; he is the driver of a train or of a tramcar. His power lies in knowing that the track is fixed, although certainly not straight all the way; he knows the stations through which it passes and the destination towards which he is driving, the curves and the slopes.
And he is certainly not the only one who knows it. The historically plotted course does not belong to just one thinking head, but belongs to an organization which transcends individuals, above all in time, forged by living history and by a doctrine, which is (for you a tough word) codified.
If this is denied then we are all of us done for, and no new Lenin will ever save us. We will take our manifestoes, books and theses to the pulping mill, in a common bankruptcy.
The April Theses therefore deal with a given, grandiose historical situation, encompassing a crucial year and the thunderous movement of a hundred and fifty million people. They don’t treat the situation as unexpected or new, as one which requires a makeshift solution, but graft it on to the deterministic lines which the doctrine – unitary and cast en bloc – of history and revolution, or rather revolutions, discovered. And discoveries do not evolve or improve. They are either discoveries, or they aren’t.
It seems therefore that Lenin makes his entrance like those who want to dismantle
and smash everything up. To destroy is the only Marxist way of constructing and managing things.
In the bourgeois and petty bourgeois swamp, and indeed for all dying classes, knowledge is folly,
revolutionary truth is treated with hemlock. But on at least one occasion the scandalised conformists
have been forced to swallow it. Stepping down from the train, the engineer lays into the opportunist
obstacle with a few deft blows. And the train of history continues along its inexorable track;
and along the only path which it could and had to take.
1. (Paragraph one). In our attitude towards the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to “revolutionary defencism” is permissible.
After what we have mentioned repeatedly, no theoretical gloss is required. Clearly if the war was considered imperialist by Marxists when fought by England, France, Belgium, etc, one could hardly think that, since it was imperialist under the Tsar, it ceased to be so under a Russian bourgeois democratic government. In fact it became even more so, because that type of revolution, which Lenin had come to break up, involved a major linking up with the interests of big capital in the West.
It is worth highlighting this: the Bolsheviks had failed in revolutionary dialectics. They hadn’t understood that in Russia democracy was accepted, invoked and preached as an inevitable transitional bridge, but not as a situation in which the opposition between State and proletariat should be slackened just because the State passed to the bourgeoisie had assumed parliamentary forms: they hesitated to issue the defeatist slogan in the combatant army, merely because it was Lvov in Moscow and not Nicholas. Lenin wipes the whole thing away.
1. (Paragraph two). The class-conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism, only on condition: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests.
Firstly, we must draw attention to a formula which is by no means new, but is stated here very clearly, which develops the classic concept of the dictatorship of the workers and peasants, involving the “the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat”, and to be illustrated later on. But the important point to highlight is that due to doctrinal rigor, no less than to avoid blocking oneself in in future public situations (as will be seen) Lenin, although under enormous pressure to react to the “sympathy for the war”, which after February threatened to wreck everything, did not use the raw formula of “we are against all wars”. It is a fact that here simplistic extremism is ready to commit both errors: the pacifist and the militarist one.
Another important point that clearly needs to be made: the Russian war in 1939-45
was not revolutionary defencism because none of Lenin’s conditions were met: power was not in
the hands of the proletariat and the poor peasants – there was no renunciation of annexations
after the war, because in the first phase Poland was subjugated, in the second phase half of
Europe – and not only was there no break with the interests of capital, but a brazen alliance
with it: with German capital to get hold of Poland, and with Anglo-American capitalism to get
hold of the rest.
1. (Paragraph three). In view of the undoubted honesty of those broad sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism who accept the war only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest, in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable connection existing between capital and the imperialist war, and to prove that without overthrowing capital it is IMPOSSIBLE to end the war by a truly democratic peace, a peace not imposed by violence.
Lenin, who had seen defencism infiltrating his own party, fully evaluates the real extent of this danger of “cossack” national patriotism and ingeniously links it to the “pacifism” of the masses. The latter believes that it is Nicholas, William and Franz Joseph pushing for the war to continue, and that the “democratic” governments will quickly put a stop to it. It is necessary to explain that the opposite is the case, and that in our words “War suits democracy” more than it does despotism. The last excerpt is the one we need to know how to read. Lenin underlines the word IMPOSSIBLE, and if we had the original text we would see that the exact construction is: you shouldn’t invoke a democratic peace without violence, because therein lies only error and illusion, but call for the overthrow of capitalism. A shortlist of democratic capitalist States is not a guarantee of general peace, but a condition for imperialism. A thesis that is the opposite of the one, held in common by all those currently present at the Geneva Convention, which seeks to ward off war with “political honesty”; which maintains that peaceful coexistence is possible, and so on and so forth... whereas they are all plundering wolves.
1. (Paragraph four). The most widespread campaign for this view must be organised in the army at the front. Fraternisation.
The urgency of the moment meant that this international point is indicated with
a few strokes of the chisel. The illegal organization of military defeatism, the downing of
weapons to embrace the enemy soldier, was not because Nicholas and his supporters (the provisional
government however wanted to come to terms with Grand Duke Michael!) were in command of the
army, but it was something that had to be carried out no less vigorously under the committee
and the government of the Duma! The Cossacks ad honorem are flabbergasted, and try in
vain to hide under the table.
2. (Paragraph one). The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is the TRANSITION from the first stage of the revolution – which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.
Here the noun revolution is written without the adjectives which we have no hesitation in adding. In both the first and the second stages, we are dealing with a bourgeois and democratic revolution, an anti-feudal, non-socialist revolution.
A text is interpreted, normally, in such a way that the various passages and sections are susceptible to being ordered in a logical way. And the following excerpts, as well as the hundred and one formulations for over twenty years of the same thesis, clearly evidence this. There is more: the first stage, that gave power to a bourgeoisie that neither could nor wanted to carry out the anti-feudal revolution on its own, was only possible, as a simple prologue to the anti-tsarist revolution which everybody was expecting, due to the international fact of the imperialist war, which lent power to, and imposed obligations on, the local bourgeoisie, and which – due to the failures of the European parties when war broke out – caused disorientation among the nascent Russian proletariat, with the semi-proletarians leaning on the bourgeoisie and not on the workers.
It is now a matter of recuperating. Not in order to do more of what we were determined to do back in 1905, but of making up for the failure of having done much less than set out by the theoretical programme, namely: capitalist revolution with democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.
2. (Paragraph two). This transition is characterised, on the one hand, by a maximum of legally recognised rights (Russia is AT THE MOMENT the freest of all the belligerent countries in the world); on the other, by the absence of violence towards the masses, and, finally, by their unreasoning trust in the government of capitalists, those worst enemies of peace and socialism.
This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the SPECIAL conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.
The words we have put in capitals were in italics in the original. In this passage the italicised words at this moment, and special, are the most eloquent. Dialectics teaches that often the response to the hypothesis that negates the existing state of affairs (democratic freedom), matters more than the response to that state of affairs itself (proletarian revolution).
Lenin was bombarded with objections about us being in the minority, that the workers do not understand (or, perhaps it is the professors of Marxism who don’t understand a damn thing?), that power is in the hands of the provisional government and the Soviet is in the majority for him and not for us, who have the advantage of being able to meet, talk, publish newspapers, etc… So then, says Lenin, how could it be better? Is this a reason for writing and talking rubbish? Should we maybe thank the liberal government for what they have bestowed by licking their boots, or at least (that gigantic blockhead Nenni having already shown how) by becoming its gallant and loyal opposition?
We must certainly take advantage of such largesse though: as Marx always said, the proletariat is, in spite of the victorious bourgeoisie, educated by it; not in school, but by being called to struggle, by being drawn into politics. In this lapsus of liberty we must sail against the current, open the eyes of the masses, get the upper hand.
But take heed: this much is possible in this special moment. Here the political
leader keeps a firm grip on his followers, but the far greater theoretical leader already sees
clearly what lies ahead. Freedom, no violence against the masses: for now. But would you tell
them that the situation is a definitive one, a guaranteed victory of the revolution?
Soon we will have to fight on non-legal terrain! The revolution must still be carried out (and
not because the socialist one is still to be accomplished) and within months; for if it is not
us attacking the bourgeois-opportunist government, it will be them putting us outside the law!
In July Lenin already had to go into hiding. But by now the masses had understood. Maybe by
reading the “theses”? Never. It was the theses that had understood history. And those blind
until then, or dazzled by the splendour of democracy, hesitatingly opened their blurry eyes.
Thesis 3: No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding “demand” that THIS government, a government of capitalists, should CEASE to be an imperialist government.
This is a direct response to the Party’s manifesto in March and to the articles
in Pravda, which considered the government which succeeded Tsarism, although it hadn’t
been a part of it, a revolutionary conquest, and restricted itself to inviting it to carry a
series of “impossible” political measures such as a “democratic” peace initiative, without declaring
that it was a government mandated by international capital to keep the war going, and that the
war had to be stopped in spite of it, by overthrowing it, which was the only way peace could
be achieved. The Lvov government, no less that those than came after it, expressed the requirements
of the national bourgeoisie, which was nurturing hopes of taking its seat at the banquet of
victory over Germany and the division of the imperialist plunder, which would give to a bourgeois
and militarist Russia a hitherto undreamt-of boost. It reciprocated the aid from the Entente
by committing itself to stay in the war through the course of Russian Revolution and see it
through to the end, which was possible only if the force of the working class was behind it.
It counted on winning over the workers’ leaders just as the governments of France, Belgium,
and Germany had done, and it achieved its first successes on this path with the complicity of
the mensheviks and the populists in the Soviets: this no-one had been able to say before the
April Theses. No-one had yet moved on from their joy over the fall of the Tsar. Today in Italy
the proletariat is immersed in unconsciousness because no-one (apart from us) has moved
on from a far more imbecilic victory: over Mussolini, which wasn’t even a turning point in the
historic struggle between classes, but just a military episode during the war.
Thesis 4. (Paragraph one). Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies our Party is in a minority, so for a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), Steklov, etc., etc., who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.
The well-known situation – the majority in the Soviets in the hands of the right-wing socialists, delegation of power by these to the Provisional Government elected within the Committee of Oppositions of the old tsarist Duma – is engraved by Lenin in the general formula of opportunism: the bourgeoisie influences and controls the right-wing socialists, the latter influence and control the working masses in favour of the former.
The revolutionaries disapprove of the submission of the Soviets to the Provisional Government, and they are obliged to fight against it. How should they act towards the present leaders of the Soviets, who en bloc, are at the service of a capitalist and military policy? To maybe denounce Soviets, as such? Or to say instead that, given that the “democratic majority” within the Soviets votes to support the bourgeois government, this should be ratified in homage to the usual “proletarian united front”?
To a such an alternative Lenin shrugs his shoulders. Neither of the two.
Thesis 4. (Paragraph two). The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only POSSIBLE FORM of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.
As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire State power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.
As usual we focus on what is underlined: only possible form. The theses are as follows: any government or power based outside the Soviets is not revolutionary. The only government that can be revolutionary is one based on the majority in the Soviet. But he does not say: the Soviets democratically express the will, the free opinion of the workers, and therefore, any government based on it is revolutionary, conforms to proletarian interests, and should be supported. This would be patently false. Today the Soviets express the opinion of a proletariat that has been deceived and misled: they make decisions neither from a revolutionary perspective, nor from the standpoint of the “practical needs” of the masses.
In these circumstances the Soviet, this historic form expressed by the bourgeois Russian Revolution, and a direct introduction to the tasks of the proletariat, is neither cast aside like rubbish, nor forcefully attacked; rather, its errors are systematically denounced.
What directive is offered for this difficult campaign? The famous slogan: All State power to the Soviets.
All means that the Soviets do not recognise other organs of political power not emanating from themselves; that they do not accept divisions of powers, as such divisions are tantamount to a renunciation of any power at all.
Therefore (dialectics!) we recognize the Soviet because it is the only possible
form of revolutionary government. We recognize it in principle when its majority is against
us too, and do not declare it our enemy. We do not say to it: you either pass into our hands,
or we attack you. We say to it: since we can govern only with the Soviet we will recognize
this government even though we are in a minority, and even if the Mensheviks and populists are
in the majority. But it must demand all power, and therefore disavow the Duma committee and
the Lvov cabinet, cutting its links with it and not negotiating power with parties that are
not based exclusively on workers. The Mensheviks and the SRs have a choice: either with the
bourgeoisie in the provisional government, or with us in the Soviet that has all power,
and which heads the State. This the masses led by the right-wing socialists would understand
When Lenin explains this to his party comrades, he doesn’t omit to mention that it is well known what the opportunists would choose: the provisional government and not a government of the Soviet with the Bolsheviks; a compromise by which the Soviet would not be the sole organ of power, but the bourgeois ministers would remain, and power being mandated to politicians appointed outside the Soviet would not be denied. Once this choice had become clear, the majority of the Soviet would abandon the opportunists as traitors, and the latter, along with the bourgeoisie, would have been defeated, as they wouldn’t be in the way when the inevitable violent clash between the organs of bourgeois power and the Soviet broke out.
The actual development of the revolution in Russia confirmed the accuracy of this forecast in such a luminous and powerful manner that unfortunately the fact that it was not a new way of conducting the socialist revolution got lost from view. This way was not new at all, because it corresponded to the by now rancid politics of the legalitarians, reformists, revisionists, and supporters of collaboration between the petty bourgeoisie and the workers, who had denied all along Marx’s conception of the revolution by which one passes from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist one.
Lenin’s tactic, within that historical setting, was, we repeat, impeccable. The setting is the Russia of the tsars which is emerging from feudal forms of production, the heyday of this great struggle runs from 1880 to 1917.
The tactic is right, and it is irreproachable because it is precisely the one which should be followed in an anti-feudal revolution, in a bourgeois revolution.
And here we make a connection with a topic that would arise in the future; the struggle
that the Italian left conducted between 1918 and 1926 and beyond, and also with Lenin, against
the view that the same tactic should be used in the proletarian revolution in capitalist
Thesis 5. (Paragraph one). Not a parliamentary republic – to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step – but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.
We believe that it was here the atom bomb exploded. And yet – and no-one proved it better than Lenin – they are the classic Marxist words from 1848, even if these, seventy years earlier, rigorously described the forms that needed to be destroyed and not yet those that would replace them. He who from these brief comments fails to understand that Marxism culminates in the destruction of democratic parliamentarism is no Marxist, but a complete toerag.
We come now to the contingent historical situation. We have shown how most of the Bolsheviks reasoned. The provisional government is not our government, but what can we impute to it if it is provisional? It has the mandate to call free elections (utter rubbish), thirst for which has tormented Russians for over a century: and after handing over to whoever has the parliamentary majority, the constituent assembly will be gone: therefore, until then let us prepare for the elections, and that’s that.
At this point, idiots would later say, Lenin went really mad. For now, the bourgeoisie governs. The Soviet remains to monitor things and delegates substantive power to the provisional government. Then if in the elections to the constituent assembly, the bourgeoisie and their lackeys, all supporters of the war, form the majority, as it certainly will, and definitive power passes to the parliamentary government, what does the Soviet do then? It realizes that what was provisional was itself and disbands, because one can sleep easy knowing there are parliamentary guarantees! It advises proletarians to fight heroically at the front against the Germans, and to make sure it doesn’t get involved in that scandalous activity of organizing soldiers’ deputies alongside the worker and peasant deputies…
Interpreted in such a way the Soviet is an organ of struggle for revolutionary times, and its life restricted to times of struggle. Its historical task is supposedly to lead the masses during the insurrection, and having generously shed its blood, to rejoin the ranks, and let the legal power govern undisturbed.
Here we can discern Lenin’s greatness. The Soviets are not organs of revolutionary struggle but much more: they are the form which revolutionary State power takes. They are what is contained in the words: democratic dictatorship. The proletariat takes power during the antifeudal revolution and implements the social transformation which in substance is the creation of capitalism, but during this period it not only takes power from the bourgeoisie and the big landowners, but this power is organized in such a form that they are entirely excluded from it, including any right of representation.
The only political delegation there will be lies at the heart of the network of Soviets running from the periphery to the centre; the State will be supported on this foundation; the bourgeoisie not only has no power but it won’t figure as a party of opposition either.
Herein lies the great blasphemy. The form that is appropriate for the anti-feudal revolution in Russia will not be a parliamentary assembly as in the French Revolution, but will be a different kind of organ, based on the class of workers of the city and countryside alone.
Not only the pretext of waiting for the election of the Constituent Assembly collapses, but the very necessity for it as well: the cycle will close with its forced dissolution. We are talking about an entirely different road: conquering a Bolshevik majority in the Soviets, working legally (1848: to organize the proletariat into a political party), then the conquest of all power to the Soviets (organizing the proletariat into a ruling class) which clearly involves the forceful overthrow of the power of the provisional government.
In the socialist revolution the proletariat will overthrow the power of the stable parliamentary, but bourgeois, government and will organize its dictatorship of wage-earners alone, led by the communist party.
Here – never forget it – history is still searching for the forms of proletarian power during a belated democratic revolution.
43 – Police, Army, Bureaucracy
Thesis 5. (Paragraph two). Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy (that is: the replacement of the standing army with the armed people).
Practically speaking the February government had changed the ministers, but not the network, the machinery of national administration. The Black Hundreds had gone, but rather than being an official police force they were a reactionary party/sect. The generals, the senior central and local functionaries, had changed little from the time of the tsar. The revolution, even insofar as it was bourgeois, was incomplete. If one had to assume political power in order to carry out social tasks corresponding to the liquidation of feudalism and not yet of capitalism (which was only possible if the revolution broke out in Europe) it was necessary, nonetheless, to break up the traditional State apparatus.
The proletarian power of the Soviets could only be based on the armed working class. It would not be a citizens’ army insofar as bourgeois and landlords would be excluded from it, as from the representative organs, the aim being to repress any counter-revolutionary attempt to foment civil war.
Only in a revolution that remains socially only capitalist, but in which the proletariat loses control, does the classic permanent national army of the Napoleonic type go back to being the mainstay of State power.
Thesis 5. (Paragraph three). The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.
This principle persistently defended by Lenin was, as is well-known, upheld by the Paris Commune. It is a principle for a transitional economy in which the wage system remains fully intact. But it marks a great step towards the elimination of the social division of labour, of the sub-division of society between those who live with uncertainty and those who have “a career”. To abolish careers is to deliver an economy in which basic consumption is guaranteed to all, although within limits determined by plans. Today, on the other hand, the bourgeoisie tends to do the opposite: not suppressing those with assured careers, but turning everyone into careerists, especially the industrial workers.
In fact Lenin’s policy – by which the administrator (coincident with the political representative) was a simple producer who was temporarily moved, following a decision by his Soviet, to perform that role, from which he could be recalled at any time – would be abandoned when the Republic, which still calls itself Soviet, became a capitalist State ruled by the social forces of capital and not by the workers, before fatally proceeding, on an international scale, in exactly the opposite direction to the one which passes from a workers’ dictatorship administering the transition to capitalism to one administering the transition to socialism.
The task of liquidating feudalism from its deep roots, even more so in fact, that
arose in 1917 also needed that guarantee. The worker delegated to govern and administer a society
in which the bourgeois and bourgeois interests still exploit the labour of his peers must not
be exposed to the risk of becoming a privileged person and potential instrument of capitalist
power: which was what, after inevitably getting drowned in the massive inundation of newly recruited
bureaucrats, and on a general scale would eventually occur.
On this was Lenin, who so confidently predicted huge events which are still misunderstood today, nurturing vain hopes? The usual sceptics who resolve these kind of questions with the formula of power unable to resist a craving for wealth, rather than indulging vanity, and which, understood in the vulgar sense, inevitably becomes economic exploitation and despotism, were they perhaps right? Given that such a process is avowedly inherent in all historical climes, and concerns insuperable givens of the hackneyed “human nature”?
It is certainly not the first time we have shown the vile inconsistency of this kind of rubbish; or fought against this very inferior critique of what caused the death of a great revolution. A revolution which, we may add, is not dead, but one which has been channelled into a path that is less rapid historically speaking than was envisaged by Lenin, which lacked precisely the conditions which he posited as necessary.
The Russian Revolution spanned a vast arc of history: from the ruins of a feudal system, which was far more rotten than Louis XVI’s, to the installation of a mercantile capitalism which placed it, in its economic forms, on a par with the elephantine capitalism of the west, incarnated in its State machinery insofar as it was better at extracting profit, and with a bureaucracy in its train even more corrupt than the feudal courts, its privileges and perquisites existing on a scale far more scandalous than those.
And yet the phase of heroic service to the revolutionary power – and perhaps the acceptance of austere misery is more astonishing than giving one’s life, which is far more common – isn’t actually characteristic only of the proletarian revolution, it has been a characteristic of all revolutions, in fact of all social forms of production, and it is easy to read about it in the historical accounts, and even in myths; about which it is precisely idiots who smile, in the belief that the legends which circulate were suddenly cooked one day up by an unbeliever of their calibre.
We need not go back as far as Lycurgus drinking Spartan soup with his peasants and soldiers, to King Agide who divided up all his goods, we need not recall the fasting and renunciations of the Jews, Christians and Muslims in their times of revolution, nor the episodes from Roman history about Cincinnatus, invincible general but insensible to the seductions of power and wealth, bound to the spade with which he dug his land.
The bourgeois revolution itself had its austere champions who forsook titles and privilege to embrace the new cause. The most illustrious of them, Robespierre, known as the Incorruptible, stood out from all the rest. During the rise of modern capitalism, every nation has its Savonarola of politics, following inflexible self-imposed rules. For example, the Italian liberal bourgeoisie of the old intransigent right from Sella onwards boasts a string of real fasters in power, inflexible with themselves before anyone else.
The great Bolshevik generation had such men, who were ready to take it upon themselves, for little more than the bread and cheese of the long emigration, to administer a revolution, and furthermore a revolution carried out by the poor, to found a social form that would elevate the rich. Anyone who laughs at Lenin’s insistence on taking a workers’ wage is a poor soul who envisaged him in the splendid garb of a satrap and never in his threadbare suit: who never saw Zinoviev, Bukharin, and numerous other comrades; who never knew Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, who couldn’t be said to have dressed worse than her maid because she never had a maid, and who never drew attention to herself in any way, even though quite capable, as a Marxist theoretician, of contradicting its greatest exponents.
Lenin’s formula even now was the right one. History took another path, confirming
his doctrine in full, but raising to the first rank the modern satraps of the politics of the
super-salaried and those mollified by luxury and crassly bourgeois comforts. An efflorescence
of mould, not a force and cause of history, an episode alongside other periods of fetid decomposition,
of forms of production that must perish.
We will close our analysis, forming a fitting conclusion to what we set out to demonstrate, with the three short theses on the social-economic measures.
We need not comment on thesis 9, on the duties, programme and name of the party, nor on thesis 10, on “Renewing the International” since they lie at the centre of all of our extensive and detailed treatments of the subject.
Thesis 6: The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies.
Confiscation of all landed estates.
Nationalisation of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The organisation of separate Soviets of Deputies of Poor Peasants. The setting up of a model farm on each of the large estates (…) under the control of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies and for the public account.
This is clear enough, especially to those who have followed our expositions on the disputed agrarian questions. Lenin sees the waged agricultural worker, who was a pure proletarian and not a peasant farmer, as the first priority. Then the poor peasant farmer. Poor means that he has his family as his labour force, not much land, and no working capital: he cannot live from the product of his small strip of land and has to occasionally sell his labour to the country bourgeoisie. The formula is not one of a dividing up or municipalisation of the land, but of nationalisation, that is of confiscation of land rent by the State: a measure so bourgeois that it was proposed by Ricardo. Possession to be entrusted to the Soviet, not to the individual producer. The struggle against small-scale agriculture to be conducted with large model farms. These are not yet referred to as State farms but are controlled by the Soviet: thus agrarian capitalism is allowed.
Theses 7. The immediate union of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.
This measure is also classically of the bourgeois period and already many States have effectively achieved it under various forms. There are banks where there is corporate and merchant capital. Here as well capital is not confiscated but controlled. The State is banker and its clients are private individuals.
Theses 8: It is not our IMMEDIATE task to “introduce” socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.
This thesis is clearly about the urban, industrial economy. It is not, consistent with the above, a demand which the provisional government was expected to insert in its programme, but a task entrusted to the proletarian power, and evidently subsequent to these: a) winning over the Soviet to the formula: all power, id est to the communist party; b) overthrowing the provisional government and getting rid of the constituent assembly; c) driving forward defeatism in the imperialist war.
And yet this programme of social transformation, presented by Lenin in April 1917
as the programme for the second stage of the revolution, includes not a single clause
about socialist transformation. Lenin says that we are not establishing socialism, a
word he uses with extreme care since no government “establishes” socialism: an out and out proletarian
dictatorship would disperse bourgeois relations and forms of production: a task of destruction,
not of establishing something. In the ensuing conference at the end of April, Lenin would
explain everything better, and in more categorical terms.
We therefore placed the April Theses in the context within which they arose, proving that the pronounced shift of policy by Lenin, within the complicated and difficult process of liquidating feudal and Tsarist Russia, was solely about making the most emphatic of returns to a revolutionary strategy. The revolution was, as we mentioned earlier, divided into two stages with respect to the classic expectation of the Bolsheviks, not because yet another stage had been added but because the first stage foresaw, due to the inherent difficulties of the situation, and partly because of revolutionary weakness, that it would be split in two. The February stage was a false revolution, not just a purely bourgeois revolution. It – if history had not taken an entirely different path – would have led straight to counter-revolution, that is, not just to being controlled by the global bourgeoisie, but even, and in parallel throughout with the intricate vicissitudes of the war, towards an attempted tsarist counter-revolution.
The April Theses obviated this danger. It is therefore another enormous falsehood of Stalinism (after having attempted to attribute to Lenin paternity of the doctrine ‘building of socialism in Russia alone’ at the time of the 1914 theses against the imperialist war and the opportunist betrayal, theses which were about destroying the war with defeatism in every country, including in one alone and also in Russia, but which said nothing about any constructing) to attribute this to him as if he had announced such a bombshell at the time of his return to Russia in that famous April.
Here is an example of how a publication of Stalinist origin expresses it, along with its quotations from texts that are unmistakably Lenin’s: “What marked the situation was therefore the passage from the bourgeois democratic revolution to the socialist revolution, or as Lenin put it the transformation of the bourgeois revolution into the socialist revolution”. But Lenin’s words are the ones above: “The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is the transition from the first stage of the revolution – which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants”.
This second text will also be used instead of it. But the case is prepared. The main defect, as even Lenin will say at the subsequent party conference (see chapter 49), is that the socialists pose the question of what to do today in a way that is too general: as the passage to socialism. We cannot claim to be establishing socialism, which would be a monumental absurdity. The majority of the population are small cultivators, peasants who cannot even conceive of socialism. We can only ‘preconize’ socialism.
The historical dialectic lies in this: the man who declared he didn’t want to pass
to socialism was the greatest of revolutionaries. Those who say they were instructed by him
to build it, and who state they have done it, are nothing but damnable bourgeois.
The arrival of Lenin, Zinoviev, Sokolnikov, Krupskaya and other comrades was on 16 April 1917 New Style (European Gregorian calendar) that is, 3 April in the Old Style (Russian Julian Calendar). The famous theses were read by Lenin at the enlarged conference, which was previously arranged in Petrograd by the local organizations, on the 4/17 April. (The first date will always indicate date in the Russian Julian calendar, the second in the Gregorian). The latter conference was to prepare for the national one (the party’s seventh) which ran from the 24 -29 April (7 – 12 May). It is best to stick to the old chronology, so we don’t end up calling what has become known as the April conference the May conference, or the classic October Revolution the November Revolution. The gap between the two dating systems is 13 days.
We have mentioned already that the conference was already underway and the resolution on a settlement with the Mensheviks was being presented there, and there was even the proposal that the two fractions of the old Russian social democratic party should unite. In Trotski’s words: “The contrast was too cruel. To soften it, Lenin, contrary to his custom, did not subject the resolution that had already been passed (in his absence) to analysis but merely turned his back on it”.
We have described the astonishment which his unexpected speech, and the theses it recapitulated, provoked in everybody. Trotski’s demonstration that Stalin was entirely, along with almost everyone else, disowned, is as irrefutable as the story of the incredible makeover thanks to which the official historiography later on, bit by bit, would distort the entire period along with the contrast: before April and after April; leaving in the lurch, let it be understood, Kamenev and other future “trotskists”. In 1924 Stalin admitted to having shared the erroneous position of compromise with the provisional government which would “power the mill of defencism”, confessing that: “I repudiated it only in the middle of April, after I had subscribed to Lenin’s theses”. But in 1926 he would say “that is gossip” and it was just a matter of “momentary waverings: who has not had them?”. In 1930 the historiographer Jaroslavsky would be persecuted for having alluded to these waverings. Leon’s expression is most apt: the idol of prestige is a voracious monster!
Finally, in the official History it is Kamenev, Rykov, Bubnov and Nogin who are branded for holding this semi-menshevik position, and Stalin’s reaction to it, on returning from exile, is attributed to Molotov and others. We don’t attach much importance to this argument. That Stalin = Kamenev in the pre-April period is very clear. But as far as revolutionary history is concerned, all things considered, it is Kamenev, not Stalin, who has been rehabilitated. And even if the opposite were true, the analysis of the historical forces would remain the same.
We cannot go along with Trotski though when he wants to defend here an assessment he made in 1909, of the disagreement between the “two tactics”, according to which there were anti-revolutionary aspects in both the Menshevik and the Bolshevik arguments; the first of these having already emerged, while the second would only emerge in the event of revolutionary victory.
This supposedly happened in April, and it was supposedly due to Lenin that the party was “rearmed”; an expression used by Leon in 1922 which would later unleash the ire of the Stalinists. Trotski grafts on to it his theory of the inspirational leader who expresses the masses who are more revolutionary than the party, and the party which is more revolutionary than its organizational “machine”.
In these ideas lies the proof that Trotski drew close to Lenin late in the day and that the Stalinian counter-critique was in part correct, even if both camps were wrong in having people believe that Lenin, by dropping the April bombshell, was putting into effect a revision of the old theses.
We confirm the revolutionary importance of the party’s function with the proof that
its theory had predicted everything, in a way that was as orthodox as it was reliable. If Lenin
“rearmed” the party, the term implies there were those who were “disarming” it, proving in fact,
as per our presentation, that Lenin put it back on the positions of the old contrast
between “the two tactics” which Trotski wasn’t too keen on. It wasn’t that Lenin gave secret,
brand new weapons to the party, rather he got it to pick up the weapons it was letting go of.
There was resistance to Lenin. It was not from Stalin though, who kept a low profile, but from the more ingenuous Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, Dzerzhinsky and Angarsky among others. “The democratic revolution has not ended”. “The impetus for a social revolution should have come from the West”.
Before continuing with Lenin’s responses, which were decisive, it is necessary to give the very apt formulation which appears in Trotski’s account, when commenting on the reference to the West: “That was true. However, the mission of the provisional Government was not to complete the revolution but to reverse its course. Hence it followed that the democratic revolution could be completed only under the rule of the working class”. Here he was following the line.
Attending the All-Russian Conference of Bolshevik organizations from 24-29 April, representing 79,000 party members, were 131 delegates with decisional voting power, and a further 18 attending in a consultative capacity. Of the 79 thousand members a good 15 thousand were in the capital, Petrograd. Here we see the true dimensions of a revolutionary class party. Quite different from the vulgar festivals with head counts and contributions to party funds solicited by means of Luna Park type “attractions”!
In confirmation of Trotski’s statements, it seems that even the Kremlin doesn’t consider April very interesting either. In the Italian translation of Lenin’s Selected Works (they are now printing the complete works) of the contribution Lenin made to the April Conference, only the brief theses on the Agrarian and national questions are reported, expressive and important though they nevertheless are. Lenin’s main report on the Current Situation, which in an organic way develops the themes of the April Theses, is therefore missing. We must therefore rely on texts which summarize the speeches, and have drawn one from a popular Italian publication, and the other from a rather patchy German summary.
The topics of the conference (after the opening speech given by Lenin, which underlined the historical reach of that conference “on the conditions of the Russian revolution, but of a developing world revolution as well”) were as follows: 1) The current situation; 2) The peace conference; 3) Our attitude in the Soviets; 4) The revising of the party program; 5) The situation within the International; 6) Uniting the internationalist social democratic organizations (posthumous remnant from the organization of the conference after the one in March); 7) The agrarian question; 8) The national question; 9) The constituent assembly; 10) Organizational questions; 11) Regional reports; 12) Elections of the Central Committee. The conference had the same value as a party congress. Following Lenin’s arrival, he was charged with developing points 1, 7 and 8 on the agenda, but he only spoke on points 4 and 6, covering the attitude towards the workers’ and peasants’ soviets, supporting the resolution on the war, and on the situation in the International and the tasks of the RSDLP. He also delivered the concluding speech.
We will not follow Lenin’s entire elaboration insofar as his overall construction,
developed over the course of his many interventions, is the same as in the April Theses, on
which we reported and fully commented on previously. There are nevertheless some clarifications
here and some very important formulations to be found.
Lenin clarifies again that in February power fell out of the hands of feudal despotism and into those of the capitalist bourgeoisie and the large landowners, represented by the Provisional Government and its men in Parliament, the Cadets and Liberals, and supported by the populists and socialist leaning opportunists. But history poses to the ruling bourgeoisie three tasks it cannot resolve: ending the war, giving land to the peasants, and dealing with the country’s economic crisis. The bourgeoisie backs the foreign imperialists in their war of plunder, as did the Tsar, in fact even more than him.
The most it can achieve is an imperialist peace, as a prelude to new wars. The capitalist bourgeoisie has no interest in nationalization of the land, not because such a measure is incompatible with capitalism, but because of the links between landowners and capitalists, via the mortgages on land obtained from the bourgeois banks. Finally, the bourgeoisie cannot conceive of and realize any measure of economic recovery which would not be at the expense of the workers in the factories and on the land.
Therefore, power must be taken from the bourgeoisie and assumed by the revolutionary proletariat, supported by the peasants.
Here we have a very evocative formulation. Faced with the usual objection that the conditions for a transition from a bourgeois social revolution to a socialist one are absent, Lenin responds: “The Soviets of workers’ peasants and soldiers deputies must take power not for the purpose of building an ordinary bourgeois republic, nor for the purpose of making a direct transition to socialism”.
In Lenin’s exposition, economic and political questions are once again brought fully into focus:
“We cannot be for “introducing” socialism – this would be the height of absurdity. We must preach [elsewhere this was translated as predict] socialism. The majority of the population in Russia are peasants, small farmers who can have no idea of socialism. We must therefore put over practical measures”.
We have said a lot about these practical socio-economic measures in various fields, and Lenin’s words firmly establish that their character is not such as to render them incompatible with capitalism. We will not repeat here what was said about the control of production and the State bank but will provide a quote which gives a definition of what the postulate ‘nationalization of the land’ means: “Nationalization of the land, though being a bourgeois measure, implies freedom for the class struggle and freedom of land tenure from all non-bourgeois adjuncts to the greatest possible degree conceivable in a capitalist society. Moreover, nationalization, representing as it does the abolition of private ownership of land, would, in effect, deal such a powerful blow to private ownership of all the means of production in general that the party of the proletariat must facilitate such a reform in every possible way”.
Here Marxist economic science is applied with maximum rigor. Bringing land under
State control (in another text the term Staatseigentum, or State property, is used) means
that of the three protagonists the first, the landowner, is suppressed, leaving in play the
other two, the capitalist tenant and the agricultural wage laborer, to fight the class struggle.
This is better than passing tenures, by definition bourgeois, directly to the
small peasant farmer. But in his thesis Lenin is prepared to tolerate the latter on condition
that the soviets of wage laborers on the land are organized separately (today gone, but justified
how, in a social sense?), and with another advantage in view: that abolishing property in land
is a major step forwards by making it possible to predict the abolition of all
private property, even of capital.
All of these concrete measures, necessary to get the peasant majority to move in our direction, and to get them to support the transfer of power from the provisional government (parliament, constituent assembly) to the Soviets, have nothing to do with “setting an economic foot in socialism”. However, as far as the transfer of power, as a whole, to the soviets goes, this does mean setting “one foot in socialism”, the political one. In relation to these considerations, we have sidestepped the definition of October as a bourgeois revolution conducted by the proletariat.
October must be described as a socialist revolution, not only because the proletariat is its pilot and ruling class, but because of the originality of its political and State form, which goes beyond any bourgeois republic and is the form that is appropriate in an international socialist revolution; and yet, this new form and power will not be able to initiate the socialist transformation of the economic structure in Russia, but rather in Europe.
Let’s see how this development occurs in Lenin’s words, or rather in the accounts we have of them.
“What, then, are the tasks of the revolutionary proletariat? The main flaw, the main error, in all the socialists’ arguments is that this question is put in too general a form, as the question of the transition to socialism. What we should talk about, however, are concrete steps and measures. Some of them are ripe, and some are not. We are now at a transition stage. Clearly, we have brought to the fore new forms, unlike those in bourgeois States. The Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies are a form of State which does not exist and never did exist in any country. This form represents the first steps towards socialism and is inevitable at the beginning of a socialist society. This is a fact of decisive importance. The Russian revolution has created the Soviets. No bourgeois country in the world has or can have such State institutions. No socialist revolution can be operative with any other State power than this”.
“This is a bourgeois revolution, it is therefore useless to speak of socialism,” say our opponents. But we say just the opposite: “Since the bourgeoisie cannot find a way out of the present situation, the revolution is bound to continue”. We must not confine ourselves to democratic phrases; we must make the situation clear to the masses, and indicate a number of practical measures to them, namely, they must take over the syndicates [for which read: production syndicates; a well-known example being the sugar producers syndicate] – control them through the Soviets of workers and peasants, etc. When all such measures are carried out, Russia will be standing with one foot in socialism”.
And in a passage from the resolution: “Operating as it does in one of the most backward
countries of Europe amidst a vast population of small peasants, the proletariat of Russia cannot
aim at immediately putting into effect socialist changes [Umgestaltung]. But it would
be a grave error, and in effect even a complete desertion to the bourgeoisie, to infer from
this that the working class must support the bourgeoisie, or that it must keep its activities
within limits acceptable to the petty bourgeoisie, or that the proletariat must renounce its
leading role in the matter of explaining to the people the urgency of taking a number of practical
steps towards socialism [which go in the direction that leads to socialism] for which the time
is now ripe”.
Thus taking power, overthrowing the provisional government, abolishing dualism, making the Councils the exclusive foundation of the revolutionary political State is the implacable thesis, not contradicted by the fact that the measures in themselves are not socialist, since, by constituting a decisive step forward from dying feudalism to capitalism, they are heading towards socialism
Every passage is an incitement. We have already referred to: the revolution is bound to continue. Other expressions: “If the Soviets intend to assume power, it is only for such ends [after the other measures, bringing the sugar syndicate under State control]. There is no other reason why they should do so. The alternative is: either the Soviets develop further, or they die an ignominious death as in the case of the Paris Commune. If it is a bourgeois republic that is needed, this can very well be left to the Cadets […]. The complete success of these steps is only possible by world revolution, if the revolution kills the war, if the workers of the whole world support the revolution. Taking power is, therefore, the only practical measure and the only way out”.
“But what are the Soviets to do when they assume power? Should they go over to the bourgeoisie? Our answer is – the working class will continue its class struggle”.
“It is impossible to make a direct transition to socialism. What then is the purpose of the Soviets taking power? They must take power in order to make the first concrete steps towards this transition, steps that can and should be made. In this respect fear is the worst enemy. The masses must be urged to take these steps immediately, otherwise the power of the Soviets of workers and soldiers will have no meaning and will give the people nothing”.
Let us translate this speech, repeated ad infinitum, into simple terms. In a backward,
feudal setting, fully capitalistic measures have the value of steps towards socialism.
In the specific setting of Russia and of the imperialist world war, the bourgeoisie will never
take decisive steps towards total capitalism, of a radical subversion of feudalism. Do we have
to allow a semi-bourgeois republic, ever exposed to a feudal counter-revolution, to live? Never.
The proletariat and the communist party must take power and cut the bourgeoisie out if it is
to fully enact those totally capitalist measures. And it is through taking such drastic steps
that Russia will set one foot – the political not economic one, say we – in socialism.
As regards propaganda even a Lenin can use imagery that is somewhat pedestrian. We will be slavishly modest in our adherence to it, and with these two feet we will occupy ourselves for a while.
First of all, repeating again that what we have available are reports and fragments that are not necessarily in the correct order and on which we have imposed our own ordering of the questions, we will point out that the ‘lecture notes’ of Stalinist stamp which we sometimes draw on bring the passage we have quoted to a close by removing the image of the foot, and replacing it with these shameless words: And these measures, once put into effect, will transport Russia immediately onto the terrain of socialism!
Of course, no matter how hard we try we will never get hold of those minutes from 1917. But they aren’t necessary to enable us once again to brand as a lie such popularizing by a Stalinist source.
Let us look at another passage from Lenin based on feet: “This measure [the second one: the first as we know is nationalization of agricultural land; now comes the Soviet’s control of large-scale production, over the Sugar Syndicate, the Coal Syndicate, the Metal Syndicate, etc., over the banks, and a fairer, progressive tax on incomes and properties], since big capital remains […] is not socialism – it is a transitional measure, but the carrying out of such measures together with the existence of the Soviets will bring about a situation in which Russia will have one foot in socialism – we say one foot because the peasant majority controls the other part of the country’s economy”.
The first of the two feet therefore refers to the proletariat in industry, the second refers directly to the small peasant farmers. The first is in socialism the second is not. The first stands there in a political sense because it got there thanks to two conditions: the taking of power by the Soviets, and the proletarian State’s control over big industry, over heavy industry. Now this, as we will fully come to see later in the present treatise, is also a political condition: be it of control over what remains of the big capital in private hands, for taking the big factories under State control, or for their Staatseigentum. It is a socialist political condition because heavy industry assures, to whoever in power who has it, the weapons of class war and of civil war when faced with internal and external counterrevolution. It is not, on the other hand, a socialist economic condition, since economically it is still a case of private company subjected to State control, or later on of company as State property. An economic condition of “State capitalism” is one in which the company, wage-paying, commercial, monetary system remains on its feet; a condition which beyond being political would also be a socialist economic one, would exist from the moment that mercantilism and the profit-making of the individual company had become redundant, and with them the wage system.
So the foot in Lenin’s expression, even allowing it is not among his most elevated, placed in socialism by Russia is due to a step made in the urban-industrial-proletarian sector alone: this step consists of the power used by the workers against the bourgeoisie and in their governing role with respect to the ‘common people’ and peasantry, which in its turn consists of having adopted the measure of removing the control of banks, insurance, industrial trusts and so on from the bourgeoisie.
The foot that remains in capitalism is the rural-agrarian one, where it wasn’t possible to put in place in 1917 (and nor was it in place in 1955) a consignment of fully State capitalist measures. The nationalization or the bringing under State control of the land is not State capitalism either, because private capitalism, big and small, can be associated with it. According to Marx, the land is not capital either in the historical or economic fields. More about this fundamental assumption can be found in our series on the agrarian question, on which Lenin is orthodoxy personified. Capital here consists of the productive instruments of the agricultural business, the stock, living and dead, fixed and circulating. A full capitalism on the land would have transformed all the peasant farmers into wage earners of the big companies, and from being private it would have become State after the latter had expropriated and confiscated all the agrarian enterprises, the agrarian business capital, and all of the stock.
So, nationalizing the land assures us of “the support of the peasant majority”, but
it does not create any basis for socialism in agriculture. One merely accomplishes one side
of the bourgeois agrarian revolution, that of freeing the small peasant farmer from feudal servitude
and from a part of the unearned income due to the landed proprietor; one part, because the State,
be it bourgeois or proletarian, will necessarily have to impose taxes that are on a par with
those the titular owner of the land paid, if not with all the revenue that he enjoyed.
Lenin’s constant aspiration was for the rural proletariat to prevail over the small farmer: and the latter remains as such whether he owns property, enjoys the use of it, or becomes in the end a State tenant. Anticipating what we will be saying later, clearly it is not easy, even in the most developed countries, to achieve an agriculture that is based entirely on wage labor, which is what you have when rural families do not directly consume the product of their own labor in kind. Only from this rung could one contemplate stepping up to an agrarian State capitalism, and say: sure, we are not in socialism, but we have placed one foot on the step that leads to it. Lenin will take up this idea in his 1921 pamphlet on the tax in kind about which we are going to speak at length.
Let us suppose, with the boyards and large landed proprietors of the bourgeois variety gone (‘Landlords’, latifundists), that agrarian entrepreneurs (Kulaks in Russia) had despoiled all the small peasant farmers and were conducting agriculture entirely with wage laborers. A step up the ladder to private capitalism in the countryside would then have been made, and it could be said: if we bring all the capital of the Kulaks, at least of the major ones, under State control, we will enter the phase of State capitalism and place the other foot (on the understanding that the wage earners in industry and on the land are still in possession of all power) in socialism.
What actually happened in Russia then? The Kulaks were more than expropriated, they were liquidated. Their capital didn’t pass to the State but was divided into two parts: the big cooperative companies, which are not State entities, have one part, and the other part, split up into many small portions, is divided among the peasant farmers of said companies, who therefore become half-wage earners, half direct producers, with part of the direct product consumed and the rest sold. This solution replaced the quantitative diffusion of genuine State companies, which cultivate a relatively small amount of land. This didn’t mark a transition from private to State capitalism, but rather the lingering on of a form that is half small-scale local production, that is, below the level of capitalism, whereas it does not rise above it insofar as it is a rural “labor co-operative” because, with its income and expenditure, it has the potential to become a large company that is no longer small and localized, but one that is still private and not a State one.
Let us put it another way. The small peasant farmer under a bourgeois regime differs from the feudal serf because he is free from personal servitude as regards his labor and product. He synthesizes in himself (Marx, Lenin) three figures: he is a landed proprietor, because all of the small parcel of land that he works is his; he is a capitalist because the working capital is his; he is a worker because all of the labor in the field is provided by himself and his family.
Let us nationalize the land without passing from small to big companies: the figure of the proprietor vanishes, and there remains in the small producer the two figures of the small capitalist and the worker (analogy: the artisan, the small worker tenant, or sharecropper).
Let us move on to the big capitalist company: the small peasant farmers have their land and capital expropriated: there remains the third figure of wage laborers in enterprises which have been concentrated into large units.
And so on to the Russian Kolkhoz. The small peasant has become, for around half of his labor (power) time, a wage earner and collective capitalist (to him is paid a quota of wages and a quota of profits in a system that is very complicated, as we will see) and for the other half he has become a small-holder again: he has a house, reserve capital, and spends the other part of his labor (power) time on his small plot.
Leaving aside the two minority parts, that are the big State companies and the small
peasant families who are not yet Kolkhosian, it remains the fact that most workers on the land
in Russia are still tied to forms of small production, with all the social and economic consequences
that follow. The second foot has remained on terrain that is not only not socialist,
but is actually pre-capitalist.
Undoubtedly after the violent crises which we are going to discuss – the struggles to conquer power, to stifle the war, to annihilate the counterrevolution – industry started to become on the one hand entirely, or almost entirely, State controlled, and on the other, to assume a quantitatively much greater weight in the social economy of Russia. In those cases where this remained associated with the political power in the hands of the Russian proletariat, and with the general movement of the world revolutionary proletariat, the foot Lenin referred to would be even more firmly planted in socialism even if the body was still outside it, remaining in a mercantile and State capitalist setting.
Unfortunately, the grip on the other political base would become loosened. The Russian State fully participated in a war between imperialist States as the ally of one (either…) of the two imperialist groups. The Russian proletariat no longer has a governing role with respect to the class of peasant farmers, even Kolkhozian ones, to whom equal legal status was given under the political constitution of 1936. Its political movement is no longer linked to the international program of armed revolution and dictatorship, and the Communist International has been dismantled. The second condition has been demolished bit by bit, and the physical expression of this fact has been the persecutions of the left opposition and the “purges” which have decimated its ranks.
Under these conditions State capitalism persists, the domination of largescale industry remains, but the socialist character of the achievement of these “measures” has been lost, and we are on the same level as the State capitalism of Germany and other countries (which Lenin illustrates in the 1921 pamphlet we cited).
The revolution Lenin wanted, and that October gave us, was therefore socialist because it firmly planted the proletarian-political foot in socialism.
And there the second socio-economic foot would have alighted if the international proletarian revolution had come to the rescue. Maybe only after that even advanced countries like Germany and the United States will see largescale agrarian State capitalism as a transitional form. And it would have entered it with its whole body by initiating the uprooting of autonomous individual enterprises of the wage-earner and of mercantile monetary distribution, in city and country in parallel.
But although the feudal counter-revolution in Russia, backed by the bourgeoisie of the time, had been defeated, capitalist counter-revolution would triumph in the world.
Not only was the second foot not planted in the terrain of socialism therefore, but the first one was withdrawn from it. Today, or since about thirty years ago in fact, both are outside it.
Not only is Russia not a socialist society, but it isn’t even a socialist republic.
What does remain socialist however, in the light of revolutionary history, is the October Revolution,
and Lenin’s monolithic, farsighted construction of Russia’s road ahead.
Lenin had only just won the hard battle to rid the Bolshevik party of any residual tolerance for the bourgeois government and defencism when he found himself faced with a self-styled leftwing objection: you have said it is necessary to take power; very well then; let us then go back to illegality and preparing for an imminent insurrection.
Lenin’s report on tactical developments, according to the scheme of the April the Fourth Theses, was as subtle as it was exhaustive.
We, he said, are only a minority: we mustn’t let our guard down. Due to revolutionary euphoria, many workers in good faith have relapsed into defencism, even in the cities. Until concrete economic measures are put in place, the peasants will not be with us. If in the international revolution we want to preserve the new Council form, we cannot attack the Soviet just because the greater part of it follows not us but the opportunist friends of the bourgeois provisional government.
Said Lenin: Some may ask: Have we not retreated? We were advocating the conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war, and here we are talking about peaceful not armed action during the transition to Soviet power. Well, he explained, we are currently in a transitional period in which Milyukov and Guchkov have not yet resorted to violence: and we need, therefore, to make prolonged and patient class propaganda. If we were to speak of civil war now, we would not be Marxists but Blanquists. Our policy is bound, in the immediate future, to lead to the unmasking of the bourgeois government, and especially its Menshevik accomplices (evidently at that time Lenin did not insist on this in public statements). But in Lenin’s construction the future phase of civil war is a precisely defined certainty. The Bolsheviks would discuss it at length in the months that followed, putting a brake on action again in July, and being subjected to persecutions and provocation as a result. Finally in October they would accept the challenge.
Trotski put it well when he said the party needed time to rearm, so that militants and the advanced part of the masses could get their bearings; only after that, when history had signaled the right moment, would it give battle, and win.
This powerful ensemble of decisions emerged from Lenin’s contributions to the work program, which had been prepared against the background of the previous not very good one. Having got on to the point about unification with the social-democratic internationalists (by which Kamenev and Stalin meant, in March, bringing back almost all the Mensheviks), the conference, following Lenin’s line, condemned any agreement with the Russian and foreign social democrats or with any opportunism whatsoever and formulated the watchword of the Communist International.
We have thus expanded at length on the tasks that Lenin stated had to be carried out as regards the political situation at this crucial turning point, and also as regards the agrarian question. Meriting further attention is the question of the nationalities; a very serious one under the empire of the tsar, which was defined as a mosaic of a hundred peoples.
The next (fifth) congress at the end of July would signal the passage from the phase of peaceful struggle to the new armed insurrection: but the historical and theoretical line will be the clear elaborations of the April conference; and among the 32 people who formed the October Committee, the same names would appear as on April 14. Stalin was called for the first time to the central committee: Trotski was still absent and not part of the Bolshevik organization. According to Trotski, Lenin and Stalin apart, out of all those elected to this Central Committee only Sverdlov died of natural causes, and all the others were subsequently executed or unofficially suppressed.
It is maybe at the April conference that the cardinal points of the Russian Revolution shone through with their greatest intensity: the break with the semi anti-tsarist bourgeoisie, the break with the social opportunists, the break with the war, the linking up with the revolutionary movement and the struggle for the State of the proletarian dictatorship, in all countries.
Points formidably advanced, right from the opening statement in which Lenin states
that we are not at the historical turning point of socialist transformation in Russia alone.
Concerning Lenin’s contribution to the April Conference (April 24-29, 1917; 7-12 May European calendar), there is still the national question to be considered. We have the text of the resolution that Lenin proposed, and a partial view of the ideas within it in a pamphlet dated 10 April (immediately after the April 4 theses which we discussed earlier). Using another incomplete publication as our source we can reconstruct an outline of the discussion.
According to that source the principal merit for setting out the national question goes to Stalin, who made the official speech.
It is therefore possible that Stalin had understood enough to retract the policy he had pursued earlier towards the bourgeois provisional government and the opportunist parties in the Soviets. Be that as it may, the decisive intervention that shaped the conference’s conclusions was made by Lenin.
It is undoubtedly correct to say that the nationalities oppressed by tsarism (as the old saying went, a hundred races and a hundred languages under one State and one tsar) played a massive part in the struggle taken up in 1917 to lay the basis of a new power, its passing to a new class. The outcome of the revolution depended, in large part, on knowing whether the proletariat would manage to draw the oppressed nationalities behind the laboring masses. That is a fact: one need only think of Poland, where vicious Tsarist pogroms had massacred Polish and Jewish nationals; and hatred there was directed not only against the Tsar but against Petrograd, against the Russian race, which was historically dominant within the empire. Another matter of decisive historical importance is that the bourgeois provisional government was prepared to continue the old policy of throttling and oppressing the different nationalities: it was repressing national movements, and dissolving organizations of the Diet of Finland type. For the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, confronted with a war situation in which vast zones of the ex-empire were in the hands of the German foreigner, the fact of the matter is that the main slogan was still “Russia one and indivisible”, just as under the tsar when the country was even deemed Holy.
No less historic is the fact that it was the Bolsheviks alone who took a stand against this feudal slogan, openly declaring that the peoples of the oppressed nations had the right to decide their destiny. The popular text, which here and there we have paraphrased, displays little rigor when it attributes this right to the “workers”, when actually the formula refers specifically to the peoples.
It is said, then, that it was Stalin who elaborated with Lenin the principles of
the Bolshevik national policy, and that in his report he unmasked the government’s policy
of thievery and pitilessly denounced the petty-bourgeois conciliators clinging
on to the bourgeoisie’s coat tails. Well, as is well known, the question of whether or not a
directive’s paternity is ascribed to the names of illustrious men is not something we find particularly
pressing; and as to the point he made, we will talk about Stalin’s contributions to the national
question in general (see our Race and Nation in the Marxist Theory). What is certain
is that the sudden shift in April, to opposing the provisional Government and the opportunists
in the Soviets, affected the national question just as it did the issues of war and peace; the
attitude to the provisional government and the dualism of powers; and the economic and agrarian
measures and so on. Anyone who had seen it as correct about the bourgeoisie’s and petty-bourgeoisie’s
reactionary policy towards the nationalities as correct would necessarily have viewed all of
it as correct, and not steered the conference we are discussing towards an attitude of “benevolent
expectation” towards the government until the constituent assembly had taken place, and towards
a merger with the Mensheviks!
They can be assumed to be the points attributed to Stalin, but we find them in the resolution written up by Lenin as follows: a) recognition of the right of the peoples to secede (what does it mean to apply this to workers? nothing); b) for the peoples gathered under a given State, regional autonomy; c) for the national minorities, special laws that guarantee their free development; d) for the proletarians of all of the nationalities under a given State, one indivisible proletarian organization, and one party.
Now at this point, without dialectics to assist, one doesn’t get very far, just as the Bolshevik left back then didn’t get very far. Is this the solution of the national question for a communist society? Certainly not. It is the dialectical solution that follows from a bourgeois democratic revolution. But back in 1917, during a phase of conquering, plundering, imperialist capitalism, overseas and in Europe, the bourgeoisie of every country and especially in Russia was totally incapable of remaining faithful to all the literary incense (rather than historically concrete actions) burnt in ’89 and ’48 to the autonomy of small nations and for their liberation (which, when it did happen, was due to insurrections and wars of independence, not rubber stamping from on high).
Such a program, like many of those of an agrarian and urban social nature which are sub-socialist and still democratic-bourgeois, can be adopted and put into effect only by a proletarian power which takes control of the anti-feudal revolutionary process: the key to the entire problem always lies there, in the previous theorizations of the party, in the lessons of history duly interpreted from 1900 to the present day, and linked to what was established as regards theory and policy by Marx back in 1848, for example in relation to the classic question of Poland, which we have covered in great depth.
But Piatakov (a Marxist not to be written off), supported by others who attended
the conference, gave another report on the national question. They eventually did away with
Piatakov, and we are making use of the reference we have. He would state that in an era in which
the world economy had established indissoluble links between many countries, the national State
constitutes a historical stage which has ended: “The call for independence belongs to a historical
epoch that has already passed”, he said, “it is reactionary because it wishes to make history
go backwards. Setting out from an analysis of the new age, the age of imperialism, we say right
now that we cannot conceive of a struggle for socialism that diverges from that conducted under
the slogan “Down with frontiers”, a struggle that aims to suppress all frontiers between nations
We will report what was attributed to Lenin because it contains a high value concept, not because we want to put Piatakov down, as those who write in a “marketing” vein might want to do. We know plenty of comrades who reason as we have Piatakov talking here, good ones as well, both now and in the past. We also sang the lines which made old Turati blush: “I confini scellerati cancelliam dagli emisferi” – let us wipe unholy frontiers from the hemispheres – nor do we regret having sung them or… having hit a wrong note. But singing is one thing, deducing in a Marxist way is another. We certainly predict that the erasure will come to pass, along with an international culture and language, and the global fusion of the human races, but in following the historical course we carefully avoid serving it up as poetic and lyrical confections.
Lenin as polemicist didn’t use quack cures, and he would have probably spoken as it appears here: “The method of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is all muddled up. (…) What does the “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” mean? We MAINTAIN THAT THE STATE IS NECESSARY, AND A STATE PRESUPPOSES FRONTIERS (…) One must be mad to continue Tsar Nicholas’s policy [which was, we suppose Vladimir would have added, down with any frontier which dares to cut across the territory of my Holy Crown] … The slogan “Down with frontiers” will be the suitable only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, instead of a method…”
Let us pause over the words we put in capital letters. They are great. Why did the
giant Lenin say them at this felicitous moment? Perhaps it was the giant Engels, who theorized
in a crystalline phrase: two elements define the State: a definite territory, and armed class
power. Or perhaps the giant Marx said them when he was on theoretical terrain and taking on
the mantle of authoritarian and accepting the term, he used them to pour scorn on the libertarian
anarchists of 1870, who were enlightening the cosmos and history with their: down with
God, Bosses and the State. Or maybe it was some normal person like one of us lot, from the moment
when, through no merit of our own, at a certain juncture in our lives, the idea enters our head
(“gli entro’ nelle chiocche”), never to abandon it. Le chiocche [in Neapolitan dialect]
are the cerebral hemispheres, the brains, the cortex; or whatever you like of the natural nut.
Bourgeois culture still poses the question as follows: Capitalism means private economy, socialism means State. For a while nine out of ten socialists following this trend sought to exalt the State, and if in pursuit of the usual didactic purpose we just take Italy for a moment, it was well-known there that the anarchists “were against the State”, and that the Marxist socialists (ouch!) were for conquering the State, under the unfortunate formulation of the “public powers”.
Did we, who were children at the time of the Genoa Congress in 1892, need to read State and Revolution in 1919 in order to tackle the question? It was actually quite sufficient to read a couple of Marx and Engels’ well-known and oft quoted paragraphs, acquirable even fourth hand, and with no need to clothe ourselves in erudition.
Marxism is against the State in general and against the bourgeois State in particular. The society that is in its historical program, since it is without classes, is without a State. But Marxism foresees that the State will serve as a transitory revolutionary instrument precisely in order to destroy the present ruling class, after the revolution has destroyed the present State.
Marxism conducts the struggle against the bourgeois State, which can only be overthrown by violent means. But in previous historical stages Marxism foresees the utilization of this same State to destroy the feudal State, and in given sectors to hit the private owners of capital with its detoxicated nationalizations. In given periods it foresees entering the organs of the bourgeois State firstly to ‘stimulate’ it, then to ‘sabotage’ it, and at a certain point it has to prepare to abandon this terrain for that of insurrection and the taking of power.
Anecdotal evidence can sometimes make explaining things easier. In 1908 the Marxists in Italy began to break the monopoly on revolutionary action held by the anarchists and syndicalists of the then a la mode Sorelian type, who were extremist in words but in substance petty bourgeois; meanwhile it stigmatized the reformist wing of socialism. Attaining a certain notoriety there was the “teachers’ left”, with solid party militants, namely comrades Dini, Capodivacca and others, who pioneered trade union agitation among the teachers. For the deputy and lawyer Turati: the Dini, the Ciarlatini and other similar “omini” [little men]. For the deputy and lawyer Turati (certainly no idiot even as regards Marxism, and along with him Treves and others) a Marxist without a degree was inconceivable.
In fact the school master Ciarlantini, at the 1912 Reggio Emilia congress dominated by Mussolini as standard bearer of the left, would make a speech – maybe not understood by all but commendable none the less – on the subject of socialism against the State for Marxist reasons rather than anarcho-Sorelian ones.
The entire question back then revolved around running for election as intransigents, rather than as part of the dreadful popular blocs, which was a way of getting proletarians and bourgeois to collaborate. Still very young when we fought for this at the time, we were nevertheless very clear that the proletarian class needed to remain separate not in order to penetrate the parliamentary State, but to destroy it by revolutionary means.
In any case, returning to Lenin, he along with Marx and Engels, and us in the stalls, established that we need the State, and in certain cases the post-feudal State of whatever type, including for over a century the bourgeois ones as well. Every time that this historical machine that is the State is of service to us, of service to us is its political and military weapons, even police ones, along with a precisely circumscribed territory as well: we will also need the frontiers.
When feudalism is no more, when the bourgeoisie is no more and when classes are no more or rather no more class forms of economy and production, that is, when there are no more proletarians, then, as Engels said, we will get rid of the State and send it to the scrapyard and after the last States are got rid of, only then will the last frontiers fall.
Certainly not as soon as we have taken power in a big, modern capitalist country; much less after taking power in feudal Russia in 1917. And so, said Lenin to Piatakov, you tell me nothing with the phrase ‘no more frontiers!’ You must tell me: are they the frontiers of the Romanov territory, or somewhere else? And which ones are they?
The question of April 1917 is still a burning one. At the moment the French bourgeoisie is screaming that black African Algeria is within the frontiers of its “République une et indivisible”. Something to throw in the face of the even more centralist Soviet republic is that it is subjugating peoples behind a curtain that is even longer than Nicholas’s Holy one.
For Marxism the resolution of such burning issues cannot be based on Piatakov’s passionate
but naïve appeal. Much more is required, when one considers the torrents of historical energy
needed to shift frontiers, and how little the workers’ International seems to possess, which
is supposed to wipe them, like chalk from a blackboard, from the spherical surface of the planet.
The balance sheet of this dispute on the national question is made by the cominformists in the usual way. “What united L. Kamenev and I. Piatakov [with not a hint that Kamenev and Stalin, a bit before and a bit after April, supported the same line!] was their lack of understanding of the tasks of the revolution and it drew the party into the Menshevik swamp [and Stalin who had drawn up, and then withdrawn, the motion on unification with them, what was he doing?]; Piatakov, without openly declaring himself [all those who are not in the inner sanctum today have always been, by the same yardstick, Mephistophelian imitators!] against Lenin’s theses, was, in practice, condemning the revolution to isolation and defeat. The party was fighting on two fronts: against the opportunist opposition on the right and against the left opposition”. And it goes on to repeat that the main questions of the conference were covered in the reports given by Stalin and Lenin, in order to suppress, not frontiers like the unfortunate Piatakov, but the memory, any memory of the fact that back then the right opposition was Stalin; as the incontrovertible data and evidence we have brought forward bears out.
Anyhow, the left opposition would have said this: If we take total revolutionary power in Moscow and Petrograd, we would be mad to let go of Warsaw, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Baku, Batum and so on: it would be a gift to the counter-revolution made in the name of our school’s respect for the theory of the “right to separate”. Which race or nationality did Stalin ever give up, orthodox then against left errors, to conform with the policy on the national question? It was the ups and downs of war that caused free bourgeois Finland to rise, still respected to this day, and free Poland also, which, with Hitler’s help, was resolutely gobbled up in 1940.
It is therefore necessary return to Lenin’s original text, resolute on this point more than ever.
First though we should highlight that not all the cooks in that kitchen were always
in unison. The famous Official History of the Party says that the speaker on the national question,
Stalin, had together with Lenin elaborated, etc, etc; then it reports the resolution, leading
one to believe that it was written by the speaker Stalin, as you would. But in Lenin’s Selected
Works edited in Moscow, there appears the same resolution, published in Soldatskaia Pravda
of 3 May 1917, as indicated, and included in the volume: Writings of 1917 by Lenin, Vol.1,
pp.352-353, ed.1937. Which of the two is the truth?
A first brief formulation, and a very good one, appears in the pamphlet which was written immediately after the 4 April Theses. The chapter on the agrarian and national questions is excellent also on the first question as well: it insists on the division between the rural Soviet of wage-earning agricultural laborers and semi-proletarians (those who, let it be said for the hundredth time, have a parcel of land, but who cannot earn their living from it and have to work for a daily wage here and there for other larger enterprises) and the generic Soviet of peasant farmers, as opposed to “the honeyed petty-bourgeois talk of the populists regarding the peasants in general, which will serve as a shield for the deception of the propertyless mass by the wealthy peasants, who are merely a variety of capitalists”. In what respect, therefore, does populism, slapped down back then, differ from today’s agrarian policy of the cominformists, where, in Italy for instance, they even flirt with the big tenant farmers?!
Lenin asked, then, that every estate confiscated from the landowners (a confiscation the opportunists wanted postponed until … the constituent assembly had been held) be transformed into a large model farm controlled by the Soviets. And he added: “In order to counteract the petty-bourgeois phrase-mongering and the policy prevailing among the Socialist-Revolutionaries, particularly the idle talk about “subsistence” standards or “labor” standards, “socialization of the land”, etc., the party of the proletariat must make it clear that small-scale farming under commodity production cannot [Lenin’s italics] save mankind from poverty and oppression”.
Repeating yet again that neither Christian Democrats nor “communists” in Italy appear to be in the least interested in pursuing such an objective, preferring instead to hatch clutches of sterile, poverty-stricken family farms, spelling the death knell as much for squalid Basilicata as for magnificent Sicily, we’ll now get back to the national question: in fact we’ll quote Lenin on the subject in full (Point 14 in the pamphlet):
“As regards the national question, the proletarian party first of all must advocate the proclamation and immediate realization of complete freedom of secession from Russia for all of the nations and peoples who were oppressed by tsarism, or who were forcibly joined to, or forcibly kept within the boundaries of, the State, i.e., annexed.
“All statements, declarations and manifestos concerning the renunciation of annexations that are not accompanied by the realization of the right of secession in practice, are nothing but bourgeois deceptions of the people, or else pious, petty bourgeois wishes.
“The proletarian party strives to create a State [you hear!] which is as large as possible, because this is to the advantage of the workers; it strives to draw nations closer together and bring about their further fusion, but it desires to achieve this aim not by violence, but exclusively through a free fraternal union of the workers and the working people of all nations.
“The more democratic the Russian republic, and the more successfully it organizes itself into a Republic of Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, the more powerful will be the force of voluntary attraction to such a republic on the part of the working people of all nations.
“Complete freedom of secession, the broadest local (and national) autonomy, and elaborate guarantees of the rights of national minorities – this is the program of the revolutionary proletariat”.
The great historical questions that are presented here, the perspective of which causes discomfort to no few comrades, can be followed better on the basis of the developed resolution. Naturally how the problem is framed changes.
We are (a) under a regime in the feudal period or worse under one that is still Asiatic-depotic? We give a completely free hand to the movements for national liberty, which in the famous theses of 1920 at the 2nd Congress of the Communist International (accepted by the Italian left, which fiercely disagreed with the application of those tactics in the countries of advanced capitalism) there is discussion about as to whether they should be defined as democratic-bourgeois or national revolutionary. Communist and Marxist gullets were invited to swallow both terms, dished up with the following thankless presentation: in given places, times and social modes, if you can get your hands on guns, it is okay to unite not only with the non-proletarian masses, but with the bourgeoisie themselves. That’s it.
Or are we instead (b) on the morrow of the fall of feudalism and in a republic led by the bourgeoisie which has decided not to deal with the war and land questions? It is necessary to force it to free the nations trapped within the ex-feudal State, and which want to separate. In practical terms this means that the question will not be posed in a “pan-Russian” consultation, but rather in peripheral national consultations.
We are (c) for moving forward, not to a socialist society, but to a socialist republic which bases its power on the Councils of Workers and Peasants? Well, we would be consistent, in the expectation of higher social forms and above all the international revolution, if we proclaimed that the Soviets of the nationalities were free to decide whether or not to separate from the one State.
We mention in advance that the question is not the same as republics united in a federation, and hence not the same as the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, in its day, either, insofar as almost all of the nations and races in play are represented as a minority, and the fact that the various federated and autonomous republics do not correspond, and nor could they, to uniform languages and races.
After the conquest of power, we will maintain the principle of separation, but civil and military wars will have a bearing on its implementation, or rather the wars with States who have sent in counter-revolutionary forces, variously operating in all of the regions of the immense territory.
At a certain point the great battle of 1920 at the gates of Warsaw would determine
a major turning point, more than a Polish workers’ uprising would do, and the decision that
a Polish National Soviet on the “frontiers” would be proclaimed.
The passing of the resolution is a historic moment. “The policy of national oppression, inherited from the autocracy and monarchy, is maintained by the landowners, capitalists, and petty bourgeoisie in order to protect their class privileges and to cause disunity among the workers of the various nationalities. Modern imperialism, which increases the tendency to subjugate weaker nations, is a new factor intensifying national oppression”.
The resolution refers back to the historic Marxist thesis which states that in order for the capitalist form of economy to fully develop, and for European society as a whole to be released from the bonds of feudalism, a necessary requirement, to be brought about by means of internal insurrections and national wars, was for States to organize on the basis of a nationality; it was necessary (and couldn’t be otherwise) to liquidate all the old transcontinental empires, and if Vienna’s, Berlin‘s and Constantinople’s were reluctant to die, Petrograd’s was even more so.
If therefore the rise of the capitalist mode of production within the European zone is linked to the free organization of the nationalities, something in which proletarians have a direct interest, in a later phase, according to Lenin, it becomes increasingly oppressive. The struggle for overseas and extra continental markets leads to powerful deployments of the military forces of the State and to continuous wars driven by competition, with the aim of exerting political domination over the countries of other continents. When in the great wars the imperialist powers fight to rob each other of their colonies and possessions, also those with a fully developed and democratic capitalism are keen to make conquests that are detrimental to the interests of other European countries and, depending on the outcomes of the wars, the small countries and peoples pass from one hand to the other.
The ideology of European national liberation and liberation in general comes to be replaced by the idea of spreading modern civilization: this, in an early stage, is employed to justify the subjection, enslavement and even the destruction of peoples and races of color, and then takes the form of demands, in the metropolis, for contested frontier provinces that lie in crucial nerve centers, i.e., Alsace Lorraine, Venezia Giulia, the Danzig region, the Sudetenland, the Balkans. From these struggles there arises the solidarity of socialist opportunism with imperialist capitalism, and the epidemic of defencism is triggered, with each side concealing their thirst for conquest under phrases about saving their own developed civilization from the threat of aggression.
That same socialism which professed to be against all annexations became the supporter of all wars. If one allows for a moment the sophism that peoples with advanced modes of production have “the right” to govern the less advanced ones, a sophism every European country has been guilty of invoking, the bourgeois idea of freedom of peoples and equality of nations, historically devoid of meaning, becomes one of oppression and conquest.
Having broken at the same time with Tsarism allied in Europe with national and class
oppression of all kinds, and with the opportunism of 1914 which consecrated the proletariat
paying homage to all bourgeois wars, the Russian revolution could not but adopt the policy of
ending wars of expansion and conquest and offering freedom to those countries which had been
included in the Russian State as a result of violent conquests.
In his preliminary remarks Lenin points out that a bourgeois republic, with a fully developed democracy, can consent to different peoples and languages coexisting, without one predominating over the other; clearly he is referring to Switzerland, where there is not one but three official languages. And he adds: “The right of all the nations forming part of Russia freely to secede and form independent States must be recognised”. He says that any other policy would foment national hatred and sabotage internationalist proletarian solidarity. He cites the case of Finland and its conflict with the bourgeois Government in Petrograd, and asserts that Finland, having thrown off the yoke of Tsarism, must be allowed to secede.
If separation from the State is not achieved, the party must support broad regional autonomy and the abolition of a compulsory official language, calling for the new constitution to bring an end to national privileges or any violation of the rights of national minorities.,
Readers will recall in the report at Trieste on the Factors of Race and Nation
the part dedicated to Stalin’s writings on linguistics: the theories according to which a class
revolution does not interrupt the historical function of the national language referred to the
Russian language, which had become de facto language of the Soviet republic and of the entire
union. Our critique of this notion was useful in proving that this historical requirement of
one national language was further proof of the bourgeois character the revolution had assumed,
and that it was pointless to get tied up in theoretical knots to justify this requirement on
a Marxist level. So, what happened to the opposing claim that the State, first of all, should
propose to the national minorities that they secede, and if not, that they be granted a polylingual
administration along Swiss lines? Later on we will return to this issue and consider if the
massive State structure in present day Russia does have one national language, legally and actually,
as this is one of the obscure features that define an imperialist structure.
It is here that we come on to the famous point on which Stalin, back in 1913, had had to collaborate with Lenin on the national question, at cross purposes with the position taken by Austrian social democracy in the pre-war period; a point which Lenin reaffirms in 1917. It was the proposal of the socialists of the “mosaic State” of the Habsburgs. They conceded that the administration of the State, politically and bureaucratically, should be unitary as regards finance, the army and so on, (apart from the relation of parity between Austria and Hungary, united under the crown) and proposed that to all of the subordinate peoples: Slavs, Ottomans, Latins, there should be conceded “the removal of affairs concerning public instruction and similar matters from the competence of the central State, in order for to be placed in the hands of sui generis national Diets” without other powers. This creates artificial division, Lenin now adds, between the workers living in the same locality, or even in the same industrial enterprise, by reinforcing their link with the bourgeois cultures of individual nations, whereas the aim of the Socialists is to “reinforce the international culture of the world proletariat”.
In the study undertaken by the young Stalin, which impressed Lenin and his wife, was precisely developed the idea that the thesis of autonomy in schools, university and in cultural matters was right-wing and opportunist, whereas the revolutionary thesis was the separation of the Austro-Hungarian State from the Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Ottoman, Serbian, Rumanian, Czech and Slovakian provinces, the fracturing of that State, even if that was not necessarily the task of a socialist revolution – which on the contrary would have been able to bring those people together on a very different plane – but of a bourgeois revolution and of a war settlement, as the first European war was for Austria, as the earlier Balkan one had been for the Ottoman empire.
This thesis is consistent with the Marxist view on the national questions, which
with ample elaborations we showed cannot be reduced to the negation of nationalities as a present-day
historical fact, and at the time it was strongly defended. But whereas back in 1917 Lenin committed
the Russian Revolution to it, which wasn’t a national rebellion, but the historical overthrowing
of a State which held many nationalities trapped in its web, we might well ask how that thesis
developed in subsequent years, and what type of State, as regards freedom of movement of nations
and regions, the one in the U.S.S.R., constructed in Stalin’s name and appearing as a formidable
monolithic block, actually is, whereas meanwhile Stalin claims responsibility for the tradition
and the merit of being a national super-autonomist. To remain consistent with Lenin’s thinking
the next step for Russia, to be able to overcome serfdom and national fragmentation, could only
be taken in association with the European proletarian revolution. Given that this didn’t happen,
Russia arranged itself into a super-State, concentrated and unitary in its armed forces, both
at home and abroad; the classic form of modern capitalism.
Radical Marxists had always fought the formation of national parties within the same State, which professed to be socialist (Poland, Bohemia, etc.). In Russia the question, as to movements within the workers unions and Party organisation, which was already social democratic, was a burning one. Lenin had always supported one sole party throughout the Russian State. The question was particularly relevant to the Jewish Bund, a party which was Marxist in doctrine and known for its energetic revolutionary action. Accepted in Russian and international congresses, the Bund was however unwilling to merge with the socialist, then communist, party, which comprised indifferently militants of all nationalities in its ranks. Lenin clinched this point with the words: “The interests of the working class demand that the workers of all nationalities in Russia should have common proletarian organisations: political, trade union, co-operative educational institutions, and so forth. Only the merging of the workers of the various nationalities into such common organisations will make it possible for the proletariat to wage a successful struggle against international Capital and bourgeois nationalism”.
These final formulae place in their correct relationship the constant pursuit of internationalism, both in the proletarian movement and in the socialist organization of society in the future, and the struggle against the “immanent” nationalism of the bourgeoisie, with the historical solutions which in the great stages and great areas we are obliged to find and give to the questions of race and nation. What we have said at great length as regards the fundamental conference of April 1917, which maps out the entire trajectory of Russia’s revolution by strictly linking together the movement’s past and future, which for ease of exposition, too, is personified in Lenin, integrates historically what we developed regarding doctrine in the oft cited Trieste report, which comrades will recall unravelled the question of race and nation, in its historical application, up to the first great world war and within the confines of the central-western European zone, and it was left to the present work to apply the question to Russia, and to another one, presented orally in Florence in December 1953, to apply it to the East and to Asia.
Any justifiable elasticity, on the historical scale or related to global geography,
is possible, that much is quite clear as far as Marxist doctrine is concerned, on condition
that Lenin’s condition of one pluri-national organisation within each State is respected, and
their union at an international level: in that Communist International which in the wake of
the – monolingual – Stalinian declination, was liquidated in a way as rowdy as it was
servile, and which will one day shall rise again, as One Communist Party, with sections in each
Proof of the meagre internationalism of Graziadei, Serrati, Cachin and co. lay precisely in their lack of understanding the national question in the world that lay beyond the Urals and the Mediterranean, because that data was not that of the politics of the country they came from.
With the sole aim of rendering Lenin’s construct for Russia and the extra-European world more intelligible, a construct which was truly prophetic, and above all strictly orthodox in its Marxism, we will, yet again, fall back on the example of Italy, and ask ourselves if, and from when, it was right to say: where we are the racial and national question doesn’t exist; and therefore our party (but this would be correct if it was national!) is only concerned with class issues. Fine, but petty.
The Italian national bourgeois State was formed late, in 1861, on the back of the wars and insurrections of a young bourgeoisie, in which the proletariat fully participated. Although there arose a State of mixed races in the ethnographic sense, everything came together (and, along with the democratic tradition alla francese, that of Catholicism, of ecclesiastical internationalism) to settle the racial questions: Russians and even Germans were amazed when they heard us say we didn’t know if a citizen was Jewish or of a non-Catholic religion: the equality of the conditions of life was total not only legally but in fact and in custom.
Against a lay background such as this, for despite its lateness the capitalist economy appeared among us in its recent forms (it had very different traditions in the North and South, in Palermo and Milan) the class struggle of the proletariat rapidly took shape.
In 1911 the proletarian party rid itself of its last national prejudices: it loudly denounced the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of unity, and at the same time broke off its alliance with the petty bourgeoisie against alleged reactionary strata, there being no more reactionary stratum than the petty bourgeoisie itself.
But stuck in the gullet of the bourgeoisie there still remained a negative, irredentist, national question. An honest radical bourgeois at the end of the century felt there would be a fourth war and he called it “la prova del fuoco”, the crucial test; and bourgeois Italy came out of the imperialist war well, but without the support of the proletariat, which was able to remain indifferent.
The socialist proletariat had provided good evidence (facilitated by history, rather than due to any inherent merit) for its anti-imperialist and anti-annexionist positions during the harsh African ventures at the end of the nineteenth century and in 1911-12; it had learnt to tarnish the thesis that corrupts many Marxists: that a war is just if it brings to a barbarous people modernizing and civilizing systems.
In a certain sense the Italian proletariat in 1918 found itself unencumbered by the
national questions whether negative (irredentism) or positive (empire), as the
bourgeoisie alone had been involved, and it felt ready, as regards its internal organisation,
to proceed and give battle on the class front.
If that battle, which doesn’t require every glorious and inglorious episode to be gone into, was lost, it is due also to the struggles not having been correctly placed within an international framework, to an underestimation of the much better equipped imperialisms of England, France and Germany, which had pulled the carpet from under the feet of the European Revolution.
If a Russian revolution is unable to attain the peak of its cycle without a revolution in Europe, mainly because of its inadequate economic forms, an Italian revolution cannot, not because of all the usual rubbish about regions being depressed or backward, but because geographically events occurring in Italy become international matters; indeed, the bourgeois revolution itself only got underway because of the wars of systemization in Europe, in the West and East, which cleared the road of conservative obstacles. Whichever of the two imperial blocks into which Europe can be divided wins it can take charge in Italy, and in the past, and in the future, this country with its too many frontiers will share borders with both of the adversaries. The Italian militants, therefore, shouldn’t be too proud in being the first to overcome the evils of chauvinist opportunism. They should not say that due to their experience of politics on the domestic front they can declare the national question overcome, or that they can go on to delete those too many frontiers of theirs.
That won’t happen before the question of the ones in Europe has been settled, including the huge problem of the two Germanies: revolution alone can unite them, but the European revolution needs German unity, and a German workers’ dictatorship, whereas the prospect of that happening in England and France is more fragile, for various reasons.
It would be a really, stupid kind of national pride to refuse to acknowledge this point, and fail to see that we have to learn from the past revolution in Russia, and also from ones yet to happen in Asia, in order to break the cycle of the hundred and one conditions which, in endless succession, lie between us and socialism.
It wouldn’t be bad thing, having got back onto the subject, to mention a couple of other things about the national question in Russia in 1917.
The historical thesis that the provisional government composed of members of the bourgeoisie and social-opportunists, as well as keeping the war going, continued the tsarist directive of ruling over the whole of indivisible “Panrussia” and – typically – fought against the movements in the peripheral areas of a national-bourgeois type with repressive measures (whereas the Bolsheviks on the contrary adopted the position of disannexation with a view to achieving internationalist revolutionary understanding among the working classes), is a thesis that has been confirmed in a series of facts.
Ukraine (a third of the population of European Russia, a ninth of its territory). Petlyura and other bourgeois nationalists followed by the social-opportunists formed the Rada, which, when it called for self-determination, but not separation, came into conflict with the Petrograd government. Lenin considered such requests modest and affirmed that one shouldn’t “deny the Ukraine’s right to freely secede from Russia. Only unqualified recognition of this right makes it possible to advocate a free union of the Ukrainians and the Great Russians, a voluntary association of the two peoples in one State”. In July an agreement was made between Petrograd and Kiev; but on August 4 it was revoked drastically and unilaterally by Petrograd.
Finland (population 3 per cent, territory 4 per cent). Having consented to the Diet on the basis of a previous tsarist constitution, after a conflict with it the provisional government dissolved it in July 1917. Lenin had written: “The tsars pursued a crude policy of annexation, bartering one nation for another by agreement with other monarchs (the partition of Poland, the deal with Napoleon over Finland, and so on), just like the landowners, who used to exchange peasant serfs. The bourgeoisie, on turning republican, is carrying on the same policy of annexation, only more subtly, less openly […] Workers, do not be influenced by the annexationist policy of the Provisional Government towards Finland, Kurland, and the Ukraine”.
Turkestan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (territories partly in central Asia, population a seventh of European Russia). The Provisional Government governed them from the centre with the Tsar’s old bureaucratic apparatus, granted amnesties to the executioners of the national insurrections, and imposed the Russian language and schooling on these Muslim and Mongol peoples.
Poland. Here the provisional government made the grand gesture in February 1917 of publicizing the declaration of independence by Russian Poland. But the fact is the Germans had occupied it, and a year before it had proclaimed the same independence! Where Russian troops were in occupation of the territory, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists prevented any “disannexation”. Poland is the classic ‘test’ of the national vexata quaestio: and its function in that respect doesn’t start nor end here.
A note on language. On 29 March 1917 the Russian provisional government “ authorizes the use of all languages and all dialects in the documents of private societies, for teaching in private schools and in commercial literature”.
The 1918 constitution (which consecrates the independence of Finland, the Persian provinces, Armenia, and the right of national secession) includes education among the central people’s commissariats, sanctions the general right to free instruction, but doesn’t say anything about the use of the various languages.
The 1936 constitution (on which we will need to dwell later) states in article 121 that the right of the citizen to instruction is “in the mother tongue”.
The matter is left to the ministers of education of the federated republics (which are nonetheless not monolingual).
Therefore, there is no explicit reference either to one State language or to languages being considered equal under the law.
In practice that same Stalinian pamphlet on linguistics, which places the language factor (see the Trieste report on “Race and Nation”) outside of socio-economic determination and “politics”, erects a monumental pedestal to the classic literary historical Russian language, which is no longer considered the language of a nationality, but as a language of the State, because it is pluri-national.
A concept that is indissolubly linked to the historical phase in which the capitalist-bourgeois from of production dominates, if Marx is Marx.
Regarding this cycle, and in relation to our quotations from Marx on the Crimean War and the siege of Sebastopol, which appeared in that report: Voroshilov, over recent days in that very city, has glorified the heroic and patriotic resistance on the centenary of its defence. Holy Russia!
69. After April, onwards to the great struggle
The reader who has understood the significance of our treatise knows that our intention is not to compile a generic historiography or give a complete account of the facts, which would require greater uniformity in the ‘density of the writing’. The facts, even in the news columns, are well known, yet are quite controversial at a detailed level, and rendered obscure: which is where we pause to consider the documentation and make a more in-depth analysis.
What we aim to do, however, is to make a continual comparison between the doctrinal elaboration carried out in advance by the party – or even by other parties – those which engage with the historical process, and what actually then happens.
It is for that reason that we gave a lot of space to the April phase; during which the party drew up its theoretical balance-sheet of two battles, of differing content, about which it has sufficed for us, and will continue to suffice, to sketch out the key stages and important struggles.
The Bolshevik party had developed on a grand scale an impressive edifice of historical perspectives in the period leading up to 1905, grafting its conclusions and forecasts relative to Russia onto the great perspective of Marxist communism regarding proletarian battles in the countries of the white race.
A second balance sheet had to be made during the new pause determined by the reaction which followed 1905 and utilizing the lessons learnt in that great struggle, until one arrived at the next major crisis to hit international socialism with the outbreak of war in 1914. A new doctrinal battle was conducted, not so much at first within Russian socialism, which appeared to Lenin, too, to be entirely against a war proclaimed by the hated Tsar (we saw that here Lenin was for the most part mistaken, unable to believe that after so much theoretical preparation there would be any hesitation on that point), as within the parties in the West, most of which had shamefully caved in and gone along with the chauvinist betrayal.
When in February 1917 the crisis engulfed the Russian Tsarist State, all doctrinal forecasts are once again put to the test of facts, but the devastating effects of the European and world war would overlap with those of the class struggle in Russia, and of the anti-feudal revolution in which the working class must take up a fighting position that is difficult to define, but certainly in the front ranks.
The party within which there had been such abundant preparation following February, would acquit itself well in terms of action, but find itself on shaky ground in the latter phase as regards three problems which we have adequately outlined. First: response to the war. Second: the task of the proletarian party in the anti-feudal revolution. Third: the struggle against international social-democratic and social-patriotic opportunism.
In April the historical balance sheet is completed in an extremely thorough way, profiting from the transitory legality then in force in Russia. The program of action is constructed with great resolution. It is just a matter of applying it.
The question can be seen under two aspects: of method and principle, and tactics. Two extreme ‘wings’, to use a rather inexact term, see it in very clear cut terms. Lenin’s dialectical viewpoint identifies the two types of activity and strives to apply them at the most appropriate times, when they are most likely to meet with success.
A position that is clearly Menshevik and opportunist is to say: tsarism has collapsed, and power is held by a coalition, sometimes open, sometimes hidden, of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois opportunists. It is established that we cannot support any part of the domestic or foreign program of such a government: we need to call for power to be passed to the workers’ and peasants’ councils. But now that we are free to agitate and distribute our propaganda, following the victory of the democratic revolution, it is just a matter of winning, openly and by legal means, the majority in the workers’ organizations and the soviets. Even worse it would be to say: such peaceful agitation must be extended, even if we did win a majority in the Soviets, until the constituent assembly is convoked, in order to successfully place in a minority the solution of a coalition government with the bourgeoisie.
For a start, such a solution should be rejected as it is non-revolutionary, insofar as it is not proposed in reference to a transient phase, but in the sense of an acknowledgement that, after the democratic liberation, the party programmatically and on principle excludes armed struggle, the civil war, though having on the other hand excluded a parliamentary and government bloc with the bourgeois parties. Lenin’s response is instead completely dialectical: now, at the end of April, it doesn’t suit us to provoke, in the short term, a civil war to take power. Nevertheless, the civil war will happen, and there are two hypotheses: a tsarist counter-revolution which aims to overthrow the provisional government, in which case we will provide armed support (which happened), and in a second hypothesis: that, with the proletarian struggle having developed to the point that it both has the capacity and the need to take all power with the Soviets, the provisional government is resistant to ceding it (which also happened).
Lenin therefore responds ‘no’ to this right-wing which wants to renounce armed struggle once and for all, but at the same time he agrees with them that it is not yet the moment to spark off a rebellion and that it is necessary to undertake legal work.
Another opposition wing, also oblivious of the dialectical link between theory and strategic method, wants immediate, spontaneous struggle to be provoked without delay, to be instigated on every occasion with preliminary actions. Now that the liberal revolution has happened, these comrades say, any support for bourgeois governments, even if ratified by a parliament, is ruled out, and the way to overthrow them is not by means of the peaceful conquest of the majority but by insurrection alone. Even this position is flawed if it becomes dogmatic, restrictive for the party, if it is not just content to say that armed struggle is plausible and is bound to happen in the future, but goes on to assert that armed struggle alone should be considered at all times, and not peaceful preparation.
Against these comrades Lenin expended a great deal of effort to stop a premature attack being launched, while at the same time fully admitting that in all spontaneous movements of the working masses the party should be present not only with political agitation but with material force as well.
Given the extreme difficulties involved in identifying the propitious moment in such difficult conversions for the activity of the party, at such moments, caught between war at the borders and economic and social crisis, almost all comrades would later bitterly reproach themselves, both those who hadn’t wanted the struggle, and those who had opted to compromise it by launching it prematurely.
What is indisputable is that without the robust preparation of the April debate, the party, either due either to exhaustion or exasperation, would have gone down the road to ruin and certain defeat.
We know that even before the conference opened, on the 17th April, 14 days after Lenin arrived, the masses reacted to a provocation by the government. The date coincided not only with the 1st of May new style, the first post-tsarist one, but also with a declaration by Milyukov, the Kadet Foreign Minister, in which he promised, at the request of the Allies, to continue the war. Notwithstanding the related level of infatuation with defencism noticed by Lenin among the Russian people and soldiers, in contrast with the tendencies supporting the war’s immediate liquidation, there began in Petrograd and Moscow a series of days in which the workers called for Milyukov’s head with armed demonstrations, calling for peace, and for him to resign, which he did a few days later. But the masses didn’t go beyond demonstrations, and the party was still intent on settling its doubts.
It was on 17th May, or 4th of May old style, after the conference had closed on 12 May (29 April), that Trotsky arrived in Petrograd (greeted with enthusiasm not least as its old president in 1905) and made a speech to the Soviet in which he declared (he didn’t yet belong to the Bolshevik Party) that he fully concurred with Lenin’s political directive.
During the April Days some Bolsheviks had proposed to launch the watchword of overthrowing the government, but the party rebuked them by opposing it. Trotsky mentions here that Stalin and two conciliators signed the telegram that asked the Kronstadt sailors to suspend the anti-Milyukov action. In early May, meanwhile, with Milyukov and Guchkov having resigned their ministries, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) entered the coalition.
From the ending of the conference on 12 May, up to the convocation of the 1st Congress of Soviets from 3/16 June 1917, the Bolsheviks carried out the work of propaganda, organization and penetration which had been set out at the conference.
Meanwhile the opportunists were moving in the direction Lenin had predicted. Before April, the Soviet’s executive committee, which they controlled, was split about fifty-fifty between those for entering the government, and those against it. After the initial crisis involving the street protests, the delegates voted 34 to 19 in favor of reaching a settlement with the bourgeoisie. In Lenin’s opinion, it was the petty bourgeoisie, faced with the threat of a new revolutionary phase, which was caving in, conceding to the capitalists on all positions. On 6/19 May, the members of the new government were announced, a government presided over by the bourgeois Lvov with Kerensky and the others mentioned above: the bourgeoisie and the opportunists had clinched their pact of steel.
As predicted, the government would be powerless even in a reformist sense and the timid steps taken by the “socialists” were soon blocked, thus among the masses of the city and countryside disappointment in the government and the leaders of the Soviet would increase at this time.
The struggle of the peasants to seize in one way or another the land of the big landowners was boiling over, and one of the aims of the coalition was to divert this simmering threat into achievements attained by peaceful means. The Minister of Agriculture Chernov made attempts to implement the convoluted theoretical program of the Social Revolutionaries, involveing repartition of the land. He welcomed the call from the rural zones which denounced the attempts of the landowners to save themselves from spoliation by means of partial sales to nominees, or to rich or well-to-do peasants: and he adopted the measure of suspending, with a legal order to the notaries, all contracts involving the sale of land.
This strange measure, which contrasted on the theoretical level with the program of a great bourgeois revolution, which in France in 1789 would make “of the land an article of commerce”, aroused the indignation of the big landowners, who claimed that Chernov should withdraw this provision. Despicably this man first rendered it ineffective in practice by specifying that the transmission of mortgage rights was not prohibited, and then, more cowardly still, he authorized the resumption of all contracts which conformed “to the law”, under the pretext that only the future Constituent Assembly would be able to legislate otherwise. A miserable end for the man who had been dubbed the “minister of the mujiks”.
This gave further confirmation of the correctness of the Bolshevik view, who proposed that without waiting for the Constituent assembly the land should, without further delay, be declared the property of the State, by handing it over into the immediate material possession of the local peasant councils to be collectively managed by them or to make transitory distributions of land allotments to farming families.
At the same time in the cities the scarcity of resources and staple goods was agitating the workers who were clamoring for pay increases. For months on end the government avoided this thorny issue, they had no minister of labor, whereas the progressive Konovalov was minister of trade and industry. Finally the Menshevik Skobelev would take it on, but with the sole means of getting the so-called unofficial Duma Conference to appoint a commission, divided into sub-commissions and sections, which were deprived of any authority, and which hid behind the assertions made by the employers that any major expenditure would cause the productive machinery to grind to halt, or cause an enormous rise in prices. Around a million industrial workers would take action in the factories, not satisfied with the vague works committees which the new regime had grudgingly recognized.
Until early June it would only be in commissions and theoretical declarations that the government would tackle the question of the State’s political economy, its control of the factories and the prospect of direct State control of the largest ones, which the government viewed very unfavorably because… due to the severe lack of resources it wasn’t possible to pass to socialism! Conditions as regards obtaining supplies were worsening, workers’ wives found themselves queueing for days on end, and in the large and medium sized centers the wave of discontent was steadily rising.
As for the army, whereas the government was plotting a revival of the military struggle with support from the powers of the Entente, though fearing the consequences – which then came – of the mad launching of the offensives at the front, there was meanwhile a growing aversion among the soldiers to proceeding with the war. In the regiments agitation was rising and they were organizing Councils, always oriented more and more towards the Bolshevik tendency.
Against this hazy social backdrop there was the opening, for another great political struggle, still a bloodless one, of the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
With the reinvigorated Bolshevik fraction Lenin, just as he had brought the force of revolutionary requirements into the party meeting, got ready to bring it to the assizes of the entire working class. It was a memorable clash.
The congress opened on 3/16 June 1917 and continued until 24 June/7 July, with long debates which for the time being left the situation as they had found it. However, this congress would mark the end of the Bolshevik Party’s phase of legal preparation, of agitation on the platform established by the April Theses, and a new one would open, not of the party’s transition to the insurrectional attack however, but rather the phase of it being attacked by the counter-revolution, the end of the utilization of the public liberties, of it being forced back “underground”, that is back to the illegal activity which the party was so good at.
In power, as we know, was the coalition government established on 6/19 May between the bourgeoisie and the social-opportunists, consisting of: Lvov, president, ten other ministers, who were either Kadets or Octobrists (the “ten capitalist ministers”), the Mensheviks, Tsereteli and Skobolev, and the Social Revolutionaries and allies Kerensky, Pereverzev, Černov and Peshekonov. Kerensky, who’d sold his soul to the western allies, was at war; the Socialist Revolutionary Party was at that time numerically the most influential party in Russia.
Three months separate Lenin’s arrival from the July insurrection: his rearmament of the party was effective: on the theoretical side through having precisely defined its objectives, on the tactical side with the policy of carrying out, for the present, organizational activity, propaganda and agitation among the masses.
It is from this phase that the tradition would emerge, later excessively trumpeted, of a special ‘recipe’ that ‘Bolshevization’ would confer, as an alarm call to wake up the masses if they dozed off, by tenacious, unrelenting work and so on, like in a hackneyed, demagogic campaign. Such a recipe was employed for the entire duration of Stalinian rule in a hypocritical, philistine and intimidating way, to silence anyone who saw, instead, the true tradition being basely and blatantly betrayed. It was, instead, a matter of a particular approach to evaluating the historic transition, anticipated and expected in the after long theoretical preparation, and not an expedient of charlatans for the resolving of stagnant situations wherever and whenever they occurred. Today we have been stagnating for thirty years, but back then the situation evolved from one week to the next. Not at all times is it appropriate to go to the “great masses”, but only when they are moving in a revolutionary direction: a time that one seeks to understood, not to provoke into being.
Those three months, at that specific time and place, were certainly not wasted. The Central Committee in April had summed up its tasks as follows:
“(1) To explain the proletarian line and the proletarian way of ending the war;
(2) To criticize the petty-bourgeois policy of placing trust in the government of the capitalists and compromising with it;
3) To carry on propaganda and agitation from group to group in every regiment, in every factory, and, particularly, among the most backward masses, such as domestic servants, unskilled laborers, etc., [not from Lenin’s pen, this, or just badly translated, if the domestic servants of city and countryside, deteriorated version of the of the Russian serf, appear alongside purely agricultural workers] since it was above all them that the bourgeoisie sought to use as leverage in days of the crisis;
(4) To organize, organize and once more organize the proletariat, in every factory, in every district and in every city quarter”.
This is an excellent historical lesson in the study of revolutionary processes; it is not a philosophy, as eternal as it is worthless, of organization, a historical form whose effectiveness lies in its content, and which is not revolutionary automatically, and can indeed be the opposite. Indeed it is the explosive play of the social forces that we follow.
On the eve of the congress the Bolsheviks measured the degree of their assiduous preparation: at the Conference of the Factory and Shop committees held between May 30 and 3 June (12 -16 June new style), in which three quarters of the delegates accepted Lenin’s Bolshevik line – well illustrated in the ‘Resolution on Measures to Cope with Economic Disorganisation’ -, at the conference of the Bolshevik military organizations held during the All-Russian Congress of soldiers, and on other occasions and demonstrations. The worker’s trade unions had increased during that period to 130 newly constituted ones in the capital and 2000 throughout Russia.
The All-Russian Congress, which opened on 3/16 June under the direction of the opportunist leaders in the government and of the capital’s Soviet, consisted of more than a thousand delegates, but only 822 had a deliberative vote. Of these, 285 were Socialist-Revolutionaries, 248 Mensheviks, and these, together with a variety of smaller fractions, were in the overwhelming majority. The Bolsheviks numbered a mere 105. Represented at the Congress were 305 unified local soviets of peasant and soldier deputies from throughout Russia; 53 regional and provincial soviets; 21 organizations from the active army; 8 from the reserve army; and 5 from the navy. This was the disposition of a gigantic, organized, armed force: it showed itself to be totally impotent.
At this congress the solid Bolshevik fraction had neither the aim of achieving a Bolshevik majority, nor that of attacking the congress from without if it rejected its proposals. The step being taken then was just promoting as widely as possible the revolutionary program which the party had adopted in April.
Sitting in the presidency for the Bolsheviks were Kamenev, Zinoviev, Nogin and Krylenko. The main speakers were Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. But the work of the fraction was quietly being led by two strong-arm organizers – Stalin and Sverdlov, who never went to the tribune. Trotsky was not yet in the Bolshevik Party. He rightly remarks that if Sverdlov hadn’t died, soon he would have assumed the role, close as he was to Lenin, of the party's organizing secretary.
However, the Bolsheviks, who as the facts would show were already in control of the masses in the capital Petrograd and could have exerted pressure on the congress from without, for the last time waged a great battle of words and ideas, on a neutral terrain, a declaration of war alongside the bourgeoisie as much as the opportunists, who were still vested in dividing up the legacy of Tsarism between them.
The primary question was the attitude to take towards the provisional government. The Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks would uphold the position, in the All-Russian Congress, which had hitherto prevailed in the Petrograd Soviet, that is, to leave governmental power to the coalition ministry, formed outside the Soviets, inside the equivocal committee which claimed to trace itself back to the old Duma “elected” under the Tsar. And meanwhile everything should be deferred until the Constituent Assembly, to be democratically elected “as in the liberal, civilized countries”.
Tsereteli, one of the most talkative speakers, repeated for the umpteenth time:
“At the present moment, there’s no political party in Russia that says: give us power, leave, we will occupy your place. Such a party in Russia doesn’t exist”.
The old rhetorician was confident of his effect on the audience, but a voice – Lenin's – answered him from one of the delegates' benches:
“Such a party exists!”
Amidst much commotion and astonished comments Lenin took the platform:
“He [Tsereteli] said that there is no political party in Russia that would express willingness to take all State power into its hands. I say: ‘Such a party exists! No party has a right to refuse power, and our party does not refuse it. Our party is ready at any moment to take all power into its hands!”.
This narrative is perhaps a bit fictionalized, but we have in Lenin's “Works” two texts: the first is the speech that he gave on June 4th on the question of the attitude to take towards the government, and the other concerns the proposed resolution on the burning agrarian question.
In the speech (official minutes of the non-Bolshevik Soviet?) we can read the response to Tsereteli's quoted sentence: evidently Lenin followed up on his earlier interruption and the statement that he was ready to take power. There follows in parentheses: (Applause, laughter). Indeed, the congress partly applauded the open declaration; the congress leaders, poor saps, snickered ostentatiously: they were the ones who had claimed back in April: Lenin will remain alone, while we will stand at the head of the revolution!
The first task of the Marxist movement, declared to be an organization for making historical forecasts, is to tirelessly compare the facts with the predictions of those good men who treat us as visionaries. And this is what we have to offer.
Before quoting the passages that made Tsereteli’s laughter fall flat, let us emphasize for a moment this historical fact: the party NEVER conceals that it is constructed to hold power, on its own.
Mind you: at the very moment that Lenin, as regards the tactics he defends, is deemed to be an unpredictable and unscrupulous tightrope walker, an acrobat of unprincipled double-standards – by those who have never understood anything – he deals his cutting blow very calmly. The situation is this, he says, it is not a matter of constructing a socialist society, of implementing the socialist program; nor is it even about threatening to take action in the streets tomorrow, about insurrectionary violence, or of using the platform to advocate that to the masses; he declares that the aim is still to use the available legal channels for propaganda purposes; it is not said – though it will be said, and, as we shall see, in the doctrine it is theorized from now on – that by remaining in the minority one would see to it that the majority were edged out; the Soviet isn’t asked to immediately assume power, under threat of a boycott. None of all this, but, by the infernal Gods, while neither announcing nor threatening that revolution was at the door, it is loudly proclaimed that the party of the working class exists to achieve this sole aim: to seize power from the government, and certainly not, particularly in the phase most unfavorable to it, to participate in it only to end up being dragged along in the train of some other administration.
And the latter applies to Lenin’s “pupils”, who say they have learned from him that flexibility which call-girls learn from their pimp, and (today 1955) that their party has no other aim than the good of the nation, and to that end anyone who wants to can govern it. Swine!
It is in a hostile environment that Lenin speaks, and the other incident is accurately recorded in the minutes.
(Chairman: Your time is up).
Lenin: I’ll be through in half a minute… (Noise, requests that the speech be continued, protests, applause).
(Chairman: The presidium proposes to the Congress that the time of the speaker be extended. Any objections? The majority is for extending the time).
The speech will end amid “applause from a part of the audience.”
Lenin begins by asking: what type of institution is this assembly? Can you say it exists in any other country in the world? No. And so the question is this: either a bourgeois government as exists in all other countries today, or this institution to which we are appealing today to decide on the question of power. Now this new institution is a government, of which examples can be found in the history of the greatest revolutionary upheavals, as, for example, in France in 1792 and 1871, and in Russia in 1905.
Lenin's conclusion is familiar to us: it is a conclusion opposed to coexistence. The bourgeois government of the parliamentary type, and the Soviet, cannot co-exist: therefore, either the former is suppressed, or the latter will be crushed by the counter-revolution or at best make a laughing-stock of itself.
In accordance with this doctrine (Vain is the thought, Lenin cries out, that this is only a theoretical question), from then up to now, we have always called ‘blabbermouths’ those who, in the absence of any real movement, and with a bourgeois parliamentary government still firmly in place, want to “found Soviets in Italy”.
Everyone is fond of building, constructing and founding. The bourgeois animus of the building firm! We are revolutionaries insofar as we aspire only to tear down, demolish and destroy!
But we would like to dwell a moment on the very remarkable claim that an institution of government which arose from the exploited masses occurred not only in 1905 Russia and with the Paris Commune, but also “in 1792 France”.
This is a thesis of Marx and Lenin’s that rests on very solid foundations. The French Revolution of 1789-1793 was a bourgeois revolution, i.e., it was determined by the pressure of the capitalist mode of production which needed to replace feudalism; nor could there have been any other social perspective than the passing of economic privilege and political power from the feudal nobility to the big bourgeoisie. But the clash manifested itself as a collision of the mass of urban and rural poor against the ancien régime and its defenders: and it is precisely a revolution that historically straddles feudalism and capitalism that can best be described as a truly popular revolution. It was a class revolution fought for the bourgeoisie, but not by the bourgeoisie, who sent the poor, and the middle class intelligentia, to fight for them. Our revolution will be a true class revolution rather than a popular one, because the proletariat will engage in a revolution for itself, and what is more it will abolish all classes; the working class will make this happen, and it alone
In 1917 Russia, between February and October, we don’t have the historic problem of the revolution in-between capitalism and socialism, but rather that of the revolution from feudalism to capitalism. In distant 1792 there was a second bourgeois revolution, and the poor people were able to fight but not govern, whereas in the more recent one in 1917, we are talking about the… penultimate bourgeois revolution, and the proletariat, already with a significant presence, had to fight with the whole of the people and govern with them – exerting hegemony over them.
We won’t at this point examine what Marx and Lenin had to say about a dualism of power in the anti-feudal revolution which had already revealed itself in the French Revolution of the 18th century (and we could say also in the English ones of the 17th Century, in the time of Cromwell and then of William of Orange’s) and ended up in both those cases with the defeat of the embryonic “people’s power” and the triumph of the minority propertied class of manufacturers, bankers and bourgeois landowners. In this conception we see counterposed to the first Parliament, to the Estates General, of 1789, the extremist Convention of 1793, which expressed the revolutionary ardor of the urban sans-culottes and the incendiary serfs from the countryside, succumbing in the Thermidor to the power of the big bourgeoisie, as quite a while after the Commune would succumb to Thiers' thugs.
Although skipping such an analysis we will quote a passage from Lenin which confirms that the Russian Revolution was a wholly bourgeois revolution, and of all of those it played out as a “truly popular” one – which does not contradict the thesis that it triumphed in October as a revolution that was politically socialist, but which aimed to achieve an anti-capitalist social development, even though, at the end of the cycle, with the defeat of the revolutionary and internationalist party after the defeat of the European communists, it withdrew – no less than the French revolution of 1793 did – into the great feudalism-to-capitalism transition. The passage is this, from “State and Revolution”.
“If we take the revolutions of the 20th century as examples we shall, of course, have to admit that the Portuguese and the Turkish revolutions are both bourgeois revolutions. Neither of them, however, is a “people's” revolution, since in neither case does the mass of the people, their vast majority, come out actively, independently, with their own economic and political demands. […] The Russian bourgeois revolution of 1905-07 [Lenin is writing between February and October, at the time of the June congress in fact, and here denounces Tsereteli, just a few days after the speech we are examining, for having put forward his candidature for the job of executioner of the Bolsheviks] was undoubtedly a "real people's" revolution [a phrase taken from Marx and Engels, who relentlessly denounced the lack of this historical breakthrough in bourgeois Germany] since the mass of the people, their majority, the very lowest groups in society, crushed by oppression and exploitation, rose independently and stamped on the entire course of the revolution the imprint of their own demands, their attempt to build in their own way a new society in place of the old society that was being destroyed”.
Here it is made clear that of all the bourgeois revolutions the Russian one was an exquisitely popular one, and that Lenin conducted a popular revolution in 1917, and was perfectly aware of the fact. And throughout all of this he remained on the path of the European anti-capitalist revolution, in a Europe in which the conditions of 1871 no longer existed:
“In Europe, in 1871, the proletariat did not constitute the majority of the people in any country on the Continent,” as he says immediately after the previous passage.
But vile and traitorous are those who say that it was Lenin himself who charted a new course for Europe's class revolution, by demoting it to a “truly popular” one: whereas in fact the latter constituted a real promotion for a capitalist-bourgeois revolution, arising as it did, in Russia, from historical feudalism.
Had such a revolution occurred, which he did not see, the Russian revolution would not have descended from a popular to a capitalist one, but suddenly truly ascended from a popular one to a proletarian, classist and communist one.
But let us return to the First Congress of Soviets.
Lenin derides the obsession the opportunists have with this phrase. He does not depart from the line he’d been following for twenty years (as Stalinism would have it) and does not deny at all that he is proposing in the democratic revolution is a dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants. It is you, he says, who shouldn’t be talking about revolutionary democracy, but rather of “reformist democracy with a capitalist ministry”. And it’s here that the speaker turns to someone he certainly doesn’t call comrade, but “citizen-Minister of Posts and Telegraphs” and gives him the answer that aroused the aforementioned laughter in the opportunists.
“You can laugh as much as you please, but if the citizen-Minister confronts us with this question [about power] side by side with a party of the Right, [an old expedient of the renegades!] he will receive a suitable reply. No party can refuse this. And at a time when liberty still prevails, when threats of arrest and exile to Siberia—threats from the counter-revolutionaries with whom our near socialist Ministers are sharing government—are still no more than threats, every party says: give us your confidence and we shall give you our programme. This programme was given by our conference on April 29. [...]. I shall try to give to the citizen-Minister of Posts and Telegraphs a popular explanation of our resolution, and our programme”.
Lenin follows up with an exposition of the ideas and proposals set out in April. The government wants the war to continue, because it is in the interests of the Russian and foreign capitalists, and it’s a government of that very class.
But Lenin’s confutation of Tsereteli on the right of parties under a liberty endorsing regime had a great dialectical and polemical flavor. Lenin was unfortunately never able to review the volumes of his Works… Lenin foresaw it would be a matter of days before the Bolsheviks were outlawed, as the only enemies of the coalition with the bourgeoisie, i.e., of serfdom under the bourgeoisie.
He contrasts the two alternatives: If, in order to prevent the proletariat, and our party, from getting in to power, you take repressive measures against us, against our being able to agitate in the Soviet elections, in the press, etc, this would demonstrate the correctness of our thesis very well. But as long as you assert that democratic freedom has triumphed with you, then why, after the consultation of the laboring classes within a revolutionary democracy, do you demand that the assembly of Soviets on principle respect the power of a pre-established center that is outside it? You invite workers to elect Menshevik and SR delegates, you invite them to follow these parties that call themselves socialist; but by what logic, if these parties claim on principle that they don’t want to come to power?
This argument, which is as clear as it is incisive, aims to achieve the following set of results: only the Soviets are to have power and form the basis of the government. But for this to be possible it is necessary that within the Soviets there cannot prevail parties that declare themselves to be workers’ parties, but which renounce at the outset any possibility of taking power.
Lenin's speech also throws light on the question of practical anti-capitalist measures which the coalition government is powerless to implement. The opportunists here defend themselves with the usual ruse: the economic situation is serious; Russia is poor and has been further impoverished by the war. Calling for measures against big industry means claiming to “install” socialism: they call themselves socialists, but they object, entirely out of context, that socialism follows only on the basis of developed capitalism. Lenin explains that this isn’t what it is about, but only about going forward in the sense of pursuing the workers' interests and opposing bourgeois interests. In April we merely asked, he said, for an investigation into the 500-800 per cent profits obtained by the war magnates from war contracts, by chucking a few of them into prison for a while so they can reveal all, and by means of workers’ control in the factories. This is not socialism.
We’re still at the same point in the polemic. They are a series of steps which can be taken in our class struggle, possible even when socialism isn’t, which as a point of arrival is not to be found within the revolution in Russia, although it must remain the final aim of the class and the party. So, we are talking about workers' control, about compulsory cartelization, that is, the establishment of State-controlled industrial trade unions. Bourgeois governments also do this (in Italy the various “Institutes for Industrial Reconstruction”) but for the purpose of increasing capitalist profits with State money: the revolution must do this in order to forfeit a part of the profits. And finally, but only later, will the Bolsheviks propose the nationalization of factories.
From 1918, and in 1921, Lenin will explain that this is not, even with expropriation without compensation, a question of socialism, but of climbing the rung of State capitalism, which is on the march towards socialism.
But you must pose the question as a concrete relationship of political forces. The revolutionary party gives the order for the nationalization of the factories of the heavy arms industry, to strengthen the armed power of the State itself and the political power of the working class. The opportunists oppose this, because they don’t want to take either profits or power from the capitalists, and they assume that socialism not being mature, it is not the time to nationalize the great means of production! The correct response is twofold: nationalization of industry is State capitalism, and not yet socialism (not even in the sense of the lower stage of communism). But in denying this measure and in supporting it one has an act of fighting against socialism and for socialism, with the proletariat leading the latter fight even in the knowledge that it comes to administer the political power, still under a democratic form, of a bourgeois society.