Is Stalinism the legitimate product of Bolshevism?
Marxism found its highest historical expression
in Bolshevism. Under the banner of Bolshevism the first victory
of the proletariat was achieved and the first workers' state established.
No force can now erase these facts from history. But since the October
Revolution has led to the present stage of the triumph of the bureaucracy,
with its system of repression, plunder and falsification - the
'dictatorship of the lie', to use Schlamm's happy expression - many
formalistic and superficial minds jump to a summary conclusion: one cannot
struggle against Stalinism without renouncing Bolshevism.
Schlamm, as we
already know, goes further: Bolshevism, which degenerated into Stalinism,
itself grew out of Marxism; consequently one cannot fight Stalinism while
remaining on the foundation of Marxism.
There are others, less consistent
but more numerous, who say on the contrary: 'We must return Bolshevism to
Marxism.' How? To what Marxism? Before Marxism became 'bankrupt'
in the form of Bolshevism it has already broken down in the form of social
'Back to Marxism'
Does the slogan 'Back to Marxism' then mean a leap over the
periods of the Second and Third Internationals... to the First
International? But it too broke down in its time. Thus in the last
analysis it is a question of returning to the collected works of Marx and
One can accomplish this historic leap without leaving one's study
and even without taking off one's slippers. But how are we going to go
from our classics (Marx died in 1883, Engels in 1895) to the tasks of a
new epoch, omitting several decades of theoretical and political
struggles, among them Bolshevism and the October revolution?
None of those
who propose to renounce Bolshevism as an historically bankrupt tendency
has indicated any other course. So the question is reduced to the simple
advice to study [Marx's ] Capital.
We can hardly object. But the Bolsheviks, too, studied Capital
and not badly either. This did not however prevent the degeneration of the
Soviet state and the staging of the Moscow trials. So what is to be done?
Is it true that Stalinism represents the legitimate product of
Bolshevism, as all reactionaries maintain, as Stalin himself avows, as the
Mensheviks, the anarchists, and certain left doctrinaires, considering
themselves Marxists, believe?
"We have always predicted this,"
they say. "Having started with the prohibition of the other socialist
parties, the repression of the anarchists, and the setting up of the
Bolshevik dictatorship in the soviets, the October Revolution could only
end in the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. Stalin is the continuation and
also the bankruptcy of Leninism."
The flaw in this reasoning begins in the tacit identification of
Bolshevism, October Revolution, and Soviet Union.
The historical process
of the struggle of hostile forces is replaced by the evolution of
Bolshevism in a vacuum. Bolshevism, however, is only a political tendency,
closely fused with the working class but not identical with it.
from the working class there exist in the Soviet Union a hundred million
peasants, various nationalities, and a heritage of oppression, misery, and
ignorance. The state built up by the Bolsheviks reflects not only the
thought and will of Bolshevism but also the cultural level of the country,
the social composition of the population, the pressure of a barbaric past
and no less barbaric world imperialism.
To represent the process of
degeneration of the Soviet state as the evolution of pure Bolshevism is to
ignore social reality in the name of only one of its elements, isolated by
pure logic. One has only to call this elementary mistake by its real name
to do away with every trace of it.
Bolshevism, at any rate, never identified itself either with the
October Revolution or with the Soviet state that issued from it.
Bolshevism considered itself as one of the factors of history, the
"conscious" factor – a very important but not the decisive
one. We never sinned in historical subjectivism. We saw the decisive
factor – on the existing basis of productive forces – in the class
struggle, not only on a national but on an international scale.
When the Bolsheviks made concessions to the peasant tendency to private
ownership, set up strict rules for membership in the party, purged the
party of alien elements, prohibited other parties, introduced the NEP,
granted enterprises as concessions, or concluded diplomatic agreements
with imperialist governments, they were drawing partial conclusions from
the basic fact that had been theoretically clear to them from the
beginning: that the conquest of power, however important it may be in
itself, by no means transforms the party into a sovereign ruler of the
Having taken over the state, the party is able,
certainly, to influence the development of society with a power
inaccessible to it before; but in return it submits itself to a ten times
greater influence from all other elements of society.
It can, by the
direct attack of hostile forces, be thrown out of power. Given a more
dragging tempo of development, it can degenerate internally while
maintaining itself in power. It is precisely this dialectic of the
historical process that is not understood by those sectarian logicians who
try to find in the decay of the Stalinist bureaucracy an annihilating
argument against Bolshevism.
In essence, these gentlemen say: the revolutionary party that contains
in itself no guarantee against its own degeneration is bad. By such a
criterion Bolshevism is naturally condemned – it has no talisman. But
the criterion itself is wrong. Scientific thinking demands a concrete
analysis: How and why, did the party degenerate? No one but the Bolsheviks
themselves have up to the present time given such an analysis. To do this
they had no need to break with Bolshevism.
On the contrary, they found in
its arsenal all they needed for the clarification of its fate. They drew
this conclusion: certainly Stalinism "grew out" of Bolshevism,
not logically, however, but dialectically; not as a revolutionary
affirmation but as a Thermidorean negation. It is by no means the same.
The Bolsheviks, however, did not have to wait for the Moscow trials to
explain the reasons for the disintegration of the governing party of the
USSR. Long ago they foresaw and spoke of the theoretical possibility of
Let us remember the prognosis of the Bolsheviks, not
only on the eve of the October Revolution but years before. The specific
alignment of forces in the national and international field can enable the
proletariat to seize power first in a backward country such as Russia.
the same alignment of forces proves beforehand that without a more or
less rapid victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries the
workers' government in Russia will not survive. Left to itself the Soviet
regime must either fall or degenerate.
More exactly: it will first
degenerate and then fall. I myself have written about this more than once,
beginning in 1905. In my History of the Russian Revolution (in
the appendix to the last volume: "Socialism in One Country") are
collected all the statements on this question made by the Bolshevik
leaders from 1917 until 1923.
They all lead to one conclusion: without a
revolution in the West, Bolshevism will be liquidated either by internal
counterrevolution or by external intervention, or by a combination of
both. Lenin stressed again and again that the bureaucratisation of the
Soviet regime was not a technical or organizational question, but the
potential beginning of the degeneration of the workers' state.
At the Eleventh Party Congress in March 1922, Lenin spoke of the
support offered to Soviet Russia at the time of the NEP by certain
bourgeois politicians, particularly the liberal professor Ustryalov:
"'I am in favour of supporting the Soviet government,' says
Ustryalov, although he was a Constitutional-Democrat, a bourgeois, and
supported intervention. 'I am in favour of supporting Soviet power because
it has taken the road that will lead it to the ordinary bourgeois
Lenin prefers the cynical voice of the enemy to "sentimental
communist lies." Soberly and harshly he warns the party of the
"We must say frankly that the things Ustryalov speaks about are
possible. History knows all sorts of metamorphoses. Relying on firmness of
convictions, loyalty, and other splendid moral qualities is anything but a
serious attitude in politics. A few people may be endowed with splendid
moral qualities, but historical issues are decided by vast masses, which,
if the few do not suit them, may at times treat them none too
In a word, the party is not the only factor of development, and on a
larger historical scale is not the decisive one.
"One nation conquers another," continued Lenin at the same
congress, the last in which he participated. " . . . This is simple
and intelligible to all. But what happens to the culture of these nations?
Here things are not so simple. If the conquering nation is more cultured
than the vanquished nation, the former imposes its culture upon the
latter; but if the opposite is the case, the vanquished nation imposes its
culture upon the conqueror.
Has not something like this happened in the
capital of the [Russian republic]? Have the 4,700 Communists (nearly a
whole army division, and all of them the very best) come under the
influence of an alien culture?"
This was said in the beginning of 1922, and not for the first time.
History is not made by a few people, even "the best." And not
only that: these "best" can degenerate in the spirit of an
alien, that is, a bourgeois culture. Not only can the Soviet state abandon
the way of socialism, but the Bolshevik Party can, under unfavourable
historic conditions, lose its Bolshevism.
From the clear understanding of this danger issued the Left Opposition,
definitively formed in 1923. Recording day by day the symptoms of
degeneration, it tried to oppose to the growing Thermidor the conscious
will of the proletarian vanguard. However, this subjective factor proved
to be insufficient.
The "vast masses" which, according to Lenin,
decide the outcome of the struggle, became tired of internal privations
and of waiting too long for the world revolution. The mood of the masses
declined. The bureaucracy won the upper hand. It cowed the revolutionary
vanguard, trampled upon Marxism, prostituted the Bolshevik Party.
Stalinism conquered. In the form of the Left Opposition, Bolshevism broke
with the Soviet bureaucracy and its Comintern. This was the real course of
To be sure, in a formal sense, Stalinism did issue from Bolshevism.
Even today, the Moscow bureaucracy continues to call itself the Bolshevik
Party. It is simply using the old label of Bolshevism the better to fool
So much the more pitiful are those theoreticians who take the
shell for the kernel and the appearance for the reality. In the
identification of Bolshevism and Stalinism, they render the best possible
service to the Thermidoreans and precisely thereby play a clearly
In view of the elimination of all other parties from the political
field the antagonistic interests and tendencies of the various strata of
the population must, to a greater or lesser degree, find their expression
in the governing party.
To the extent that the political centre of gravity
has shifted from the proletarian vanguard to the bureaucracy, the party
has changed in its social structure as well as in its ideology. Owing to
the impetuous course of development, it has suffered in the last fifteen
years a far more radical degeneration than did the Social Democracy in
half a century.
River of blood between Bolshevism and Stalinism
The present purge draws between Bolshevism and Stalinism
not simply a bloody line but a whole river of blood. The annihilation of
the entire old generation of Bolsheviks, an important part of the middle
generation, which participated in the civil war, and that part of the
youth which took seriously the Bolshevik traditions, shows not only a
political but a thoroughly physical incompatibility between Bolshevism and
Stalinism. How can this be ignored?
The anarchists, for their part, try to see in Stalinism the organic
product not only of Bolshevism and Marxism but of "state
socialism" in general. They are willing to replace Bakunin's
patriarchal "federation of free communes" by the more modern
federation of free soviets.
But, as formerly, they are against centralized
state power. In fact, one branch of "state" Marxism, the Social
Democracy, after coming to power, became an open agent of capitalism. The
other gave birth to a new privileged caste. It is obvious that the source
of the evil lies in the state.
From a broad historical viewpoint, there is a grain of truth in this
reasoning. The state as an apparatus of constraint is undoubtedly a source
of political and moral infection. This also applies, as experience has
shown, to the workers' state.
Consequently, it can be said that Stalinism
is a product of a condition of society in which society was still unable
to tear itself out of the straitjacket of the state. But this situation,
containing nothing for the evaluation of Bolshevism or Marxism,
characterizes only the general cultural level of mankind, and above all
– the relation of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
agreed with the anarchists that the state, even the workers' state, is the
offspring of class barbarism and that real human history will begin with
the abolition of the state, we have still before us in full force the
question: What ways and methods will lead, ultimately, to the abolition of
the state? Recent experience proves that they are certainly not the
methods of anarchism.
The leaders of the CNT, the only important anarchist organization in
the world, became, in the critical hour, bourgeois ministers. They
explained their open betrayal of the theory of anarchism by the pressure
of "exceptional circumstances."
But did not the leaders of the
German Social Democracy invoke, in their time, the same excuse? Naturally,
civil war is not a peaceful and ordinary but an "exceptional
Every serious revolutionary organization, however,
prepares precisely for "exceptional circumstances." The
experience of Spain has shown once again that the state can be
"denied" in booklets published in "normal
circumstances" by permission of the bourgeois state, but that the
conditions of revolution leave no room for "denial" of the
state; they demand, on the contrary, the conquest of the state.
not the slightest intention of blaming the anarchists for not having
liquidated the state by a mere stroke of the pen. A revolutionary party,
even after having seized power (of which the anarchist leaders were
incapable in spite of the heroism of the anarchist workers) is still by no
means the sovereign ruler of society.
But we do severely blame the
anarchist theory, which seemed to be wholly suitable for times of peace,
but which had to be dropped rapidly as soon as the "exceptional
circumstances" of the . . . revolution had begun. In the old days
there were certain generals – and there probably are now – who
considered that the most harmful thing for an army was war. In the same
class are those revolutionaries who claim that their doctrine is destroyed
Marxists are wholly in agreement with the anarchists in regard to the
final goal: the liquidation of the state. Marxists are "stateist"
only to the extent that one cannot achieve the liquidation of the state
simply by ignoring it.
The experience of Stalinism does not refute the
teaching of Marxism but confirms it by inversion. The revolutionary
doctrine which teaches the proletariat to orient itself correctly in
situations and to profit actively by them, contains of course no automatic
guarantee of victory.
But victory is possible only through the application
of this doctrine. Moreover, the victory must not be thought of as a single
event. It must be considered in the perspective of a historic epoch. The
first workers' state – on a lower economic basis and surrounded by
imperialism -was transformed into the gendarmerie of Stalinism.
Civil war against Bolshevism
Bolshevism launched a life-and-death struggle against that gendarmerie. To
maintain itself, Stalinism is now forced to conduct a direct civil war against
Bolshevism, under the name of "Trotskyism," not only in the USSR
but also in Spain. The old Bolshevik Party is dead, but Bolshevism is
raising its head everywhere.
To deduce Stalinism from Bolshevism or from Marxism is the same as to
deduce, in a larger sense, counterrevolution from revolution.
Liberal-conservative and later reformist thinking has always been
characterized by this cliche.
Due to the class structure of society,
revolutions have always produced counterrevolutions. Does this not
indicate, asks the logician, that there is some inner flaw in the
revolutionary method? However, neither the liberals nor the reformists
have succeeded, as yet, in inventing a more "Economical" method.
"Dictatorship of the party"
But if it is not easy to rationalize the living historic process, it is
not at all difficult to give a rational interpretation of the alternation
of its waves, and thus by pure logic to deduce Stalinism from "state
socialism," fascism from Marxism, reaction from revolution, in a
word, the antithesis from the thesis. In this domain as in many others,
anarchist thought is the prisoner of liberal rationalism. Real
revolutionary thinking is not possible without dialectics.
The arguments of the rationalists assume at times, at least in their
outer form, a more concrete character. They do not deduce Stalinism from
Bolshevism as a whole, but from its political sins.
The Bolsheviks –
according to Gorter, Pannekoek, certain German "Spartacists" and
others – replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat with the
dictatorship of the party; Stalin replaced the dictatorship of the party
with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.
The Bolsheviks destroyed all
parties but their own; Stalin strangled the Bolshevik Party in the
interest of a Bonapartist clique. The Bolsheviks made compromises with the
bourgeoisie; Stalin became its ally and support. The Bolsheviks preached
the necessity of participation in the old trade unions and in the
bourgeois parliament; Stalin made friends with the trade union bureaucracy
and bourgeois democracy. One can make such comparisons at will. For all
their apparent effectiveness, they are entirely empty.
The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard
The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the
necessity for state power arises from an insufficient cultural level of
the masses and their heterogeneity.
In the revolutionary vanguard,
organized in a party, is crystallized the aspiration of the masses to
obtain their freedom. Without the class's confidence in the vanguard,
without the class's support of the vanguard, there can be no talk of the
conquest of power.
In this sense, the proletarian revolution and
dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the
leadership of the vanguard. The soviets are only the organized form of the
tie between the vanguard and the class. A revolutionary content can be
given to this form only by the party.
This is proved by the positive
experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of
other countries (Germany, Austria, finally Spain). No one has either shown
in practice or tried to explain articulately on paper how the proletariat
can seize power without the political leadership of a party that knows
what it wants.
The political subordination of the soviets by this party to
its leaders, has, in itself, abolished the soviet system no more than the
domination of the Conservative majority has abolished the British
As far as the prohibition of the other Soviet parties is
concerned, it did not flow from any "theory" of Bolshevism but
was a measure of defence of the dictatorship in a backward and devastated
country, surrounded by enemies.
For the Bolsheviks it was clear from the
beginning that this measure, later completed by the prohibition of
factions inside the governing party itself, signalled a tremendous danger.
However, the root of the danger lay not in the doctrine or in the tactics
but in the material weakness of the dictatorship, in the difficulties of
its internal and international situation.
If the revolution had triumphed,
even if only in Germany, the need to prohibit the other Soviet parties
would immediately have fallen away. It is absolutely indisputable that the
domination of a single party served as the juridical point of departure
for the Stalinist totalitarian system.
Civil war, blockade, and famine
But the reason for this development
lies neither in Bolshevism nor in the prohibition of other parties as a
temporary war measure, but in the number of defeats of the proletariat in
Europe and Asia.
The same applies to the struggle with anarchism. In the
of the revolution the Bolsheviks went hand in hand with the genuinely
revolutionary anarchists. Many of them were drawn into the ranks of the
party. The author of these lines discussed with Lenin more than once the
possibility of allotting to the anarchists certain territories where, with
the consent of the local population, they would carry out their stateless
But civil war, blockade, and famine left no room for such
plans. The Kronstadt insurrection? But the revolutionary government
naturally could not "present" to the insurrectionary sailors the
fortress which protected the capital only because the reactionary
peasant-soldier rebellion was joined by a few doubtful anarchists. A
concrete historical analysis of the events leaves not the slightest room
for the legends, built up on ignorance and sentimentality, concerning
Kronstadt, Makhno, and other episodes of the revolution.
There remains only the fact that the Bolsheviks from the beginning
applied not only conviction but also compulsion, often to a most brutal
degree. It is also indisputable that later the bureaucracy which grew out
of the revolution monopolized the system of compulsion for its own use.
Every stage of development, even such catastrophic stages as revolution
and counterrevolution, flows from the preceding stage, is rooted in it,
and takes on some of its features. Liberals, including the Webbs, have
always maintained that the Bolshevik dictatorship was only a new version
They close their eyes to such "details" as the
abolition of the monarchy and the nobility, the handing over of the land
to the peasants, the expropriation of capital, the introduction of planned
economy, atheist education, etc.
In the same way liberal-anarchist thought
closes its eyes to the fact that the Bolshevist revolution, with all its
repressions, meant an upheaval of social relations in the interests of the
masses, whereas the Stalinist Thermidorean upheaval accompanies the
transformation of Soviet society in the interests of a privileged
minority. It is clear that in the identification of Stalinism with
Bolshevism there is not a trace of socialist criteria.
One of the most outstanding features of Bolshevism has been its severe,
exacting, even quarrelsome attitude toward questions of doctrine. The
twenty-seven volumes of Lenin's works will forever remain an example of
the highest theoretical conscientiousness. Without this fundamental
quality, Bolshevism would never have fulfilled its historic role. In this
regard, Stalinism, coarse, ignorant, and thoroughly empirical, lies at the
The Opposition declared more than ten years ago in its program:
"Since Lenin's death a whole set of new theories has been
created, whose only purpose is to justify the backsliding of the
Stalinists from the path of the international proletarian
Only a few days ago an American writer, Liston M. Oak, who has
participated in the Spanish revolution, wrote:
"The Stalinists in fact are today the foremost revisionists of
Marx and Lenin – Bernstein did not dare to go half as far as Stalin in
This is absolutely true. One must add only that Bernstein actually felt
certain theoretical needs: he tried conscientiously to establish the
relationship between the reformist practices of the Social Democracy and
The Stalinist bureaucracy, however, not only has nothing in
common with Marxism, but is in general foreign to any doctrine or system
whatsoever. Its "ideology" is thoroughly permeated with police
subjectivism; its practice is the empiricism of crude violence. In keeping
with its essential interests the caste of usurpers is hostile to any
theory: it can give an account of its social role neither to itself nor to
anyone else. Stalin revises Marx and Lenin not with the theoretician's pen
but with the heel of the GPU.
Complaints of the "immorality" of Bolshevism come
particularly from those boastful nonentities whose cheap masks were torn
away by Bolshevism. In petty-bourgeois, intellectual, democratic
"socialist" literary, parliamentary, and other circles,
conventional values prevail, or a conventional language to cover their
lack of values.
This large and motley society for mutual protection –
"live and let live" – cannot bear the touch of the Marxist
lancet on its sensitive skin. The theoreticians, writers, and moralists,
hesitating between different camps, thought and continue to think that the
Bolsheviks maliciously exaggerate differences, are incapable of
"loyal" collaboration, and by their "intrigues"
disrupt the unity of the workers' movement.
Moreover, the sensitive and
squeamish centrist has always thought that the Bolsheviks were
"slandering" him-simply because they carried through to the end
for him his half-developed thoughts: he himself was never able to. But the
fact remains that only that precious quality, an uncompromising attitude
toward all quibbling and evasion, can educate a revolutionary party which
will not be taken unawares by "exceptional circumstances."
The moral qualities of every party flow, in the last analysis, from the
historical interests that it represents. The moral qualities of
Bolshevism, self-sacrifice, disinterestedness, audacity, and contempt for
every kind of tinsel and falsehood – the highest qualities of human
nature! – flow from revolutionary intransigence in the service of the
The Stalinist bureaucracy imitates in this domain also the
words and gestures of Bolshevism. But when "intransigence" and
"inflexibility" are applied by a police apparatus in the service
of a privileged minority they become a source of demoralization and
gangsterism. One can feel only contempt for these gentlemen who identify
the revolutionary heroism of the Bolsheviks with the bureaucratic cynicism
of the Thermidoreans.
Even now, in spite of the dramatic events of the recent period, the
average philistine prefers to believe that the struggle between Bolshevism
("Trotskyism") and Stalinism concerns a clash of personal
ambitions, or, at best, a conflict between two "shades" of
Bolshevism. The crudest expression of this opinion is given by Norman
Thomas, leader of the American Socialist Party:
"There is little reason to believe," he writes (American
Review September 1937, p. 6) "that if Trotsky had won (!) instead
of Stalin, there would have been an end of intrigue, plots, and the reign
of fear in Russia."
And this man considers himself ... a Marxist. One would have the same
right to say: "There is little reason to believe that if instead of
Pius XI, the Holy, See were occupied by Norman I, the Catholic Church
would have been transformed into a bulwark of socialism."
Thomas fails to understand that it is not a question of a match between
Stalin and Trotsky, but of an antagonism between the bureaucracy and the
proletariat. To be sure, the governing stratum of the USSR is forced even
now to adapt itself to the still not wholly liquidated heritage of
revolution, while preparing at the same time through direct civil war
(bloody "purge" – mass annihilation of the discontented) a
change of the social regime.
But in Spain the Stalinist clique is already
acting openly as a bulwark of the bourgeois order against socialism. The
struggle against the Bonapartist bureaucracy is turning before our eyes
into class struggle: two worlds, two programs, two moralities. If Thomas
thinks that the victory of the socialist proletariat over the infamous
caste of oppressors would not politically and morally regenerate the
Soviet regime, he proves only that for all his reservations, shufflings,
and pious sighs he is far nearer to the Stalinist bureaucracy than to the
Like other exposers of Bolshevik "immorality," Thomas has
simply not grown up to revolutionary morals.
The "leftists" who tried to skip Bolshevism in their
"return" to Marxism generally confined themselves to isolated
panaceas: boycott of the old trade unions, boycott of parliament, creation
of "genuine" soviets.
All this could still seem extremely
profound in the first heat of the postwar days. But now, in the light of
most ,recent experience, such "infantile diseases" have no
longer even the interest of a curiosity. The Dutchmen Gorter and Pannekoek,
the German "Spartacists," the Italian Bordigists, showed their
independence from Bolshevism only by artificially inflating one of its
features and opposing it to the rest.
But nothing has remained either in
practice or in theory of these "left" tendencies: an indirect
but important proof that Bolshevism is the only possible form of Marxism
for this epoch.
The Bolshevik Party has shown in action a combination of the highest
revolutionary audacity and political realism. It has established for the
first time the only relation between vanguard and class that can assure
It has proved by experience that the alliance between the
proletariat and the oppressed masses of the rural and urban petty
bourgeoisie? is possible only through the political defeat of the
traditional petty-bourgeois parties. The Bolshevik Party has shown the
entire world how to carry out armed insurrection and the seizure of power.
Those who counterpose the abstraction of soviets to the party dictatorship
should understand that only thanks to the Bolshevik leadership were the
soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the
state form of the proletariat.
The Bolshevik Party achieved in the civil
war the correct combination of military art and Marxist politics. Even if
the Stalinist bureaucracy should succeed in destroying the economic
foundations of the new society, the experience of planned economy under
the leadership of the Bolshevik Party will have entered history for all
time as one of the greatest teachings of mankind. This can be
ignored only by bruised and offended sectarians who have turned their
backs on the historical process.
But this is not all. The Bolshevik Party was able to carry on its
magnificent "practical" work only because it illuminated all its
steps with theory. Bolshevism did not create this theory: it was furnished
But Marxism is the theory of movement, not of stagnation. Only
events on a tremendous historical scale could enrich the theory itself.
Bolshevism brought an invaluable contribution to Marxism in its analysis
of the imperialist epoch as an epoch of wars and revolutions; of bourgeois
democracy in the era of decaying capitalism; of the correlation between
the general strike and the insurrection; of the role of party, soviets,
and trade unions in the period of proletarian revolution; in its theory of
the Soviet state, of the economy of transition, of fascism and Bonapartism
in the epoch of capitalist decline; finally in its analysis of the
degeneration of both the Bolshevik Party itself and of the Soviet state.
Let any other tendency be named that has added anything essential to the
conclusions and generalizations of Bolshevism. Theoretically and
politically Vandervelde, De Brouckere, Hilferding, Otto Bauer, Leon Blum,
Zyromsky, not to mention Major Attlee and Norman Thomas, live on the
dilapidated leftovers of the past.
The degeneration of the Comintern is
most crudely expressed by the fact that it has dropped to the theoretical
level of the Second International. All the varieties of intermediary
groups (Independent Labour Party of Great Britain, POUM, and their like)
adapt new haphazard fragments of Marx and Lenin to their current needs
every week. They can teach the workers nothing.
Only the founders of the Fourth International, who have made the whole
tradition of Marx and Lenin their own, take a serious attitude toward
theory. Philistines may jeer that twenty years after the October victory
the revolutionaries are again thrown back to modest propagandist
The big capitalists are, in this question as in many others,
far more penetrating than the petty-bourgeois who imagine themselves
"Socialists" or "Communists." It is no accident that
the subject of the Fourth International does not leave the columns of the
world press. The burning historical need for revolutionary leadership
promises to the Fourth International an exceptionally rapid tempo of
growth. The greatest guarantee of its further success lies in the fact
that it has not arisen apart from the large historic road, but is an
organic outgrowth of Bolshevism.
August 29, 1937.
like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and
isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of
the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since
passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is,
above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow:
it must swim against the current.
If an unfavourable relation of
forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it
must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is
expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will
consider this policy 'sectarian'. Actually it is the only means of
preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming
The Reaction Against Marxism and
Great political defeats provoke a
reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On
the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of
defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary
thought and on this basis strives to educate new cadres for the mass
struggle to come.
On the other hand the routinists, centrists and
dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the
authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their
search for a 'New World'.
One could indicate a great many examples of
ideological reaction, most often taking the form of prostration. All
the literature if the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of
their satellites of the London Bureau, consists essentially of such
Not a suggestion of Marxist analysis. Not a single serious
attempt to explain the causes of defeat, About the future, not one
fresh word. Nothing but cliches, conformity, lies and above all
solicitude for their own bureaucratic self-preservation. It is
enough to smell 10 words from some Hilferding or Otto Bauer to know
The theoreticians of the Comintern are not even
worth mentioning. The famous Dimitrov is as ignorant and commonplace
as a shopkeeper over a mug of beer. The minds of these people are
too lazy to renounce Marxism: they prostitute it. But it is not they
that interest us now. Let us turn to the 'innovators'.
The former Austrian communist, Willi
Schlamm, has devoted a small book to the Moscow trials, under the
expressive title, The Dictatorship of the Lie. Schlamm is a
gifted journalist, chiefly interested in current affairs.
criticism of the Moscow frame-up, and his exposure of the
psychological mechanism of the 'voluntary confessions', are
excellent. However, he does not confine himself to this: he wants to
create a new theory of socialism that would insure us against
defeats and frame-ups in the future.
But since Schlamm is by no
means a theoretician and is apparently not well acquainted with the
history of the development of socialism, he returns entirely to
pre-Marxist socialism, and notably to its German, that is to its
most backward, sentimental and mawkish variety.
dialectics and the class struggle, not to mention the dictatorship
of the proletariat. The problem of transforming society is reduced
for him to the realisation of certain 'eternal' moral truths with
which he would imbue mankind, even under capitalism.
attempts to save socialism by the insertion of the moral gland is
greeted with joy and pride in Kerensky's review, Novaya Rossia
(an old provincial Russian review now published in Paris); as the
editors justifiably conclude, Schlamm has arrived at the principles
of true Russian socialism, which a long time ago opposed the holy
precepts of faith, hope and charity to the austerity and harshness
of the class struggle.
The 'novel' doctrine of the Russian 'Social
Revolutionaries' represents, in its 'theoretical 'premises, only a
return to the pre-March (1848!) Germany. However, it would be unfair
to demand a more intimate knowledge of the history of ideas from
Kerensky than from Schlamm.
Far more important is the fact that
Kerensky, who is in solidarity with Schlamm, was, while head of the
government, the instigator of persecutions against the Bolsheviks as
agents of the German general staff: organised, that is, the same
frame-ups against which Schlamm now mobilises his moth-eaten
The psychological mechanism of the
ideological reaction of Schlamm and his like, is not at all
complicated. For a while these people took part in a political
movement that swore by the class struggle and appeared, in word if
not in thought, to dialectical materialism.
In both Austria and
Germany the affair ended in a catastrophe. Schlamm draws the
wholesale conclusion: this is the result of dialectics and the class
struggle! And since the choice of revelations is limited by
historical experience and... by personal knowledge, our reformer in
his search for the word falls on a bundle of old rags which he
valiantly opposes not only to Bolshevism but to Marxism as well.
At first glance Schlamm's brand of
ideological reaction seems too primitive (from Marx... to Kerensky!)
to pause over. But actually it is very instructive: precisely in its
primitiveness it represents the common denominator of all other
forms of reaction, particularly of those expressed by wholesale
denunciation of Bolshevism.
Lessons of October]
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