A detailed historical account and political analysis of the treaty that marked the official conclusion of the First World War on the Eastern Front, in which the author stridently advocates the position of the “left communists” who opposed the treaty and instead called for international revolutionary war, with extensive discussion of the connection between the opposing views on this question in the Bolshevik Party and crucial domestic controversies concerning revolutionary social organization and economic policy.
The 1918 treaty of Brest-Litovsk: curbing the revolution - Guy Sabatier
The 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: Curbing the Revolution – Guy Sabatier
“But Bukharin’s reminiscences were also to be turned against him many years later, when he was on trial for his life in 1938. No fewer than five ghosts from the past were brought out of the prisons where they had been for many years, as witnesses against him: Yakovleva, Obolensky (Osinsky), and Mantsev, formerly of the Moscow Oblast’ Bureau; and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries Karelin and Kamkov…. The three Left Communists told a grotesque story in which the open opposition of 1918 was now portrayed as a secret conspiracy. The resolution of the Moscow Oblast’ Bureau of 24 February in opposition to Lenin’s peace policy, became a secret resolution, the destruction of which had been ordered by Bukharin…. The open conferences of the Left Communists after the signing of the peace now became conspiratorial meetings. Obolensky’s evidence even went to the length of implicating Bukharin in the rising of the Left Social Revolutionaries which followed the assassination of von Mirbach.”
(Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State. First Phase, 1917-1922, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1955, pp. 143-144)
Chronology: from the seizure of power to the founding of the Third International
(Dates in parentheses are given according to the old Russian calendar)
October 23: The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party votes in favor of armed insurrection.
November 7 (October 25): Arrest of the members of the Provisional Government. The first day of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets in Petrograd.
November 19-28 (November 6-15): First Conference of the Left Social Revolutionaries.
November 25 (November 12): Elections held for the Constituent Assembly.
December 3 (November 20): Preliminary negotiations for an armistice are held with the Central Powers.
December 15: Armistice signed with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary).
December 19 (December 2): Establishment of the Cheka.
December 20 (December 7): Beginning of peace talks in Brest-Litovsk (the same location where the negotiations for the armistice were held).
January 7-14 (December 25-January 1): First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions.
January 18 (January 5): First session of the Constituent Assembly.
January 19 (January 6): Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
January 23-31 (January 10-18): Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
February 3 (January 21): Extraordinary Conference of the Bolshevik Party.
February 10 (January 28): Negotiations with the Central Powers are broken off.
February 18 (February 5): The German offensive resumes.
February 23: The Bolshevik Central Committee votes to accept German peace terms.
March 6-8: Seventh Congress of the Bolshevik Party, which changes its name from “social democratic labor party” to “communist party”.
March 14-18: Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
March 23: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed.
April 11-12: Disarmament of the anarchists.
May 21-27: Conference of the Russian Mensheviks held in Moscow.
May 25-June 4: First Congress of the National Economic Councils.
May 26: Eighth Conference of the Social Revolutionaries. The Czechs seize a number of cities in Siberia. Beginning of Western (French and English) intervention via the “white armies”.
June 8: The Czechs take Samara. They establish anti-Bolshevik governments in this city and in Omsk.
July 4-10: Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
July 6-7: Assassination of the German Ambassador, von Mirbach. Uprising of the Social Revolutionaries and its suppression by the Bolsheviks.
July 10: Adoption of the constitution of the RSFSR (Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic).
August 2: An anti-Bolshevik government is established in Archangel.
August 8-23: Anti-Bolshevik Conference in Oufa. Formation of the Russian Provisional Government.
August 27: Three agreements accessory to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk are signed in Berlin.
August 30: Failed assassination attempt aimed at Lenin by the Social Revolutionary terrorist Fanny Kaplan. She is executed. Assassination of Uritsky.
October 4-5: “Red” army counteroffensive against the Whites. Samara is retaken.
November 5: Germany breaks off relations with Russia. Expulsion of the Bolshevik ambassador Joffe.
November 6-9: Sixth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
November 9: Beginning of the German Revolution.
November 13: The Bolsheviks repudiate the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (two days after the general armistice and the end of the inter-imperialist war).
November 18: Fall of the Russian Provisional Government. Admiral Kolchak becomes the supreme commander of the White armies.
December 24: Appeal for peace sent by Litvinov (Bolshevik ambassador expelled from England) to United States President Wilson.
December 27-January 1: Russian Menshevik Conference in Moscow.
December 30-January 1: Founding of the German Communist Party (KPD).
January 8-15: The “Bloody Week” in Berlin. Assassinations of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by the hit men of the social democrat, Noske.
January 16-25: Second All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions.
January 24: Radio broadcast of a message from the Paris Conference (held by the victorious powers) inviting all the governments in Russia—including the Bolsheviks—to attend a peace conference at the island of Prinkipo, near Istanbul.
February 4: The Bolshevik Government responds favorably to the appeal to attend the Prinkipo Conference. Resumption of the White offensives.
March 2-7: First Congress of the Third International in Moscow.
The question of the extension of the revolution
Peace or revolution?
After October 1917, the Russian Revolution was immediately confronted by the problem of being an isolated proletarian order facing an imperialist war fought on a world scale.
Before 1914, Czarist Russia was allied with England and France. This alliance, called the “Triple Entente”, was opposed to another alliance called the “Triple Alliance”, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. During the course of the war, the first coalition would be reinforced first by Italy’s switching sides (1915), but later, and most importantly, by the intervention of the United States, whose troops began to arrive in Europe in the spring of 1918.
After the overthrow of Czarism by the revolutionary surge of February 1917, Russia continued to honor its military commitments to the “Triple Entente”. Under pressure from the bourgeoisie, through the intermediary of the Kerensky Government, it even increased the number of military operations on the Eastern Front. Thus, in June 1917, at the initiative of France and England, who wanted to provide some relief for the Western Front, where the trench warfare meant endless butchery and had provoked mutinies, Kerensky launched an offensive. Due to the fact that the central powers, particularly Germany, had preserved their fighting forces on the Eastern Front intact, the offensive turned into a massacre for the Russian Army. This episode would play an important role in turning the proletarians and peasants in uniform against the bourgeois power, which had become a “socialist” power after February. The Bolshevik Party spread the slogans, “Peace”, and “Bread, Land, Freedom”, after the dissemination of Lenin’s April Theses. These slogans registered an echo in the Soviets.
The Soviet seizure of power under the encouragement of the Bolsheviks in October thus meant the shattering of the Russian commitment to the military alliance of the imperialists of the “Entente”. An appeal directed at all nations to attend a conference to conclude a “just and democratic” peace was approved by the Second Congress of the Soviets in the wake of the victorious insurrection. Since this appeal met with hardly any response and the imperialist states continued to fight the war, each one pursuing its own goals, the proletarian power had to immediately resolve the problem posed by the empires of the central powers.
Starting on the day after the October Revolution, basing its positions on the advisability of a respite as recommended by Lenin and the Bolshevik majority, the Soviet Government opened negotiations with the General Staffs of Germany and Austria-Hungary. An armistice was signed. With the renunciation of any attempt to prepare for a “revolutionary war”, that is, to carry out workers armed resistance against all the imperialist powers in order to contribute to the instigation of proletarian insurrections in the other countries of the world, the peace negotiations followed those that led to the armistice.
During the interim after the armistice and the beginning of the Brest-Litovsk peace talks, while the Soviet delegation led by the Bolsheviks sat down at the same table with the imperialist diplomats and officers, a left opposition began to emerge within the Soviets and the Party that advocated “revolutionary war”. Having won majority support between January and February of 1918, this opposition rejected Lenin’s proposals to accept the draconian peace terms imposed by Germany. It also rejected Trotsky’s position that, in agreement with Lenin, envisioned “revolutionary war” only in the case that support from the French and English was forthcoming. This opposition was distinguished from the position of the Left Social Revolutionaries, who were supporters of a national war against Germany, a war that was to be fought by all the classes of Russian society but primarily by the peasants.
It was as a result of the threat posed by the German advance, which encountered no resistance at all, and by virtue of his constant blackmail regarding the risks of splitting the party, that Lenin reversed the balance of power within the Central Committee. With the abstention of Trotsky, Joffe, Krestinsky and Dzerzhinsky, who feared a split, a majority in favor of Lenin’s proposal emerged (February 23). The day before, at the conclusion of the meeting of the Central Committee, the left issued the following declaration:
“For the session of February 22 1918. To the Central Committee of the RSDLP (bolsheviks):
“The response of the Party CC to the attack by the German imperialists, who have openly declared that they aim to suppress the proletarian revolution in Russia, was an agreement to conclude peace on the conditions which the Russian delegation in Brest had rejected a few days before. This agreement, given as soon as the enemies of the proletariat made their first attack, means that the advance contingent of the international proletariat has capitulated to the international bourgeoisie. By demonstrating to the whole world the weakness of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, it strikes a blow at the cause of the international proletariat which is especially cruel at a moment of revolutionary crisis in Western Europe, and at the same time it cuts off the Russian revolution from the international movement. The decision to conclude peace no matter what, taken under the pressure of petty-bourgeois elements and petty-bourgeois attitudes, will inevitably result in the proletariat losing its guiding role inside Russia, too. The restrictions we will be forced to make, if we conclude a peace, in the sphere of action of the Soviet authorities’ economic programme to make way for capital of German origin will mean that the work the proletariat has done since the October revolution to build socialism will be brought to nothing. The surrender of the proletariat’s positions abroad inevitably prepares the way for surrender internally, too.
“We consider that after power has been seized, after the last strongholds of the bourgeoisie have been completely destroyed, the proletariat unavoidably confronts the task of developing civil war on an international scale, a task it must face any dangers to fulfill. If it renounces the task, the result will be the ruin of the proletariat from internal demoralization equivalent to suicide.
“We scornfully reject the attacks on Soviet power made by conciliating elements who see the struggle against the German imperialists as merely a pretext to establish civil peace and who, instead of a civil war with the international bourgeoisie, want to wage a national war with Germany based on the unity of classes and an alliance with the Anglo-French coalition. To renounce the dictatorship of the proletariat in the name of war is just as unacceptable to us as to renounce it in the name of peace. At a moment when the imperialist bands are not only seizing new territory but also throttling the proletariat and its organizations, it is the Party’s duty to call for the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat, weapons in hands, and to organise that defence. By a tiny majority, responsible Party leaders took another decision, contrary to the interests of the proletariat and not corresponding to the Party’s attitude. Maintaining organisational unity, therefore, we consider it our fundamental task to agitate widely in Party circles against the policy of the Party centre as it has appeared recently and to prepare for a Party congress where the question of a peace must be discussed in its full breadth.”
G. I. Oppokov, A. Lomov, M. Uritsky, N. Bukharin, A. Bubnov, V. Smirnov, In. Stukov, M. Bronsky, V. Iakovleva, Spunde, M. Pokrovsky, Georgii Piatakov (Members of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party – Bolshevik).
(See The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution: Minutes of the Central of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks), August 1917-February 1918. Translated by Ann Bone, London: Pluto Press, 1974, pp. 215-217)
This declaration then led to prolonged and bitter debates within the RSDLP that agitated the Party from the beginning of 1918 until a few days before the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty on March 3 by Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. It is indicative of a fundamental problem with regard to which the workers movement, led astray by the Second International, did not have time for in-depth reflection and instead succumbed to the social democratic alliance in a nationalism that had already paved the way for the acceptance by part of the world proletariat of the first imperialist butchery in 1914.
The Third International, backing the Bolshevik policy advocated by Lenin, which claimed that the revolutionary process allows for “truces” and can survive and even grow in one country on the economic and political planes, would reduce this problem to its purely military aspect: the creation of a so-called “red” army devoted to the defense of a so-called “workers” state. This state was supposed to be the guarantor of the rationalization of the capitalist system on the economic level—nationalization, workers control, militarization of labor—and would thus contribute to obscuring the whole political and theoretical scope of the problem.
This problem was that of the imperative need for the extension of the revolution on an international scale. And for the Russian revolution this problem was posed amidst the special circumstances of the imperialist war, a war that had led to the destruction of the Russian state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the Soviets after October 1917. Aware of the danger, the left Bolsheviks, who composed the majority in Petrograd, Moscow and the Urals, had since December been calling for an end to the peace talks that were being held with Germany immediately after the armistice was signed, and more generally for breaking all diplomatic relations with all capitalist states. For these same reasons they opposed Lenin’s position on the question of peace that was adopted, amidst the enthusiasm generated by the victory of the revolution in Russia, by the majority of the delegates at the Second Congress of Soviets. In anticipation of future developments, they also stressed the importance of the impossibility of maintaining economic relations with any capitalist state without risking the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat: their class position on this question is the only one that allows us to understand the whole trajectory which, from Brest-Litovsk to Rapallo—that is, from capitulation to collaboration—would lead the Bolshevik Party to become an active factor in the counterrevolution!
As a moment in a general movement of the proletariat against world Capital, this first victorious assault in Russia must not seek to “isolate itself” within the imperialist state system, for otherwise it would lose its character as a social movement that was attacking the capitalist relations of production, and must not allow itself to be transformed into a rationalization program for Capital. As a result of the insurmountable contradictions that ensued due to the system’s entrance into its stage of decline, this rationalization would rehabilitate the most recent forms of Capital on the economic plane—establishment of state property in place of “private” property, planning, etc.—as well as on the political plane: the dictatorship of one party identified with the state apparatus! It would utilize the most advanced methods of the Capital of that era in order to attempt to increase the productivity of labor: Taylorism, piecework, management by factory directors, development of the technocracy…. Lenin was the perfect propagandist when it came to singing the praises of State Capitalism. At the Second Congress of the Soviets held on the day following the overthrow of the Kerensky Government (October 26), the Bolshevik spokespersons declared to the workers of Petrograd: “The Revolution has been victorious. All power has passed to the Soviets… New laws will be proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers’ problems. One of the most important will deal with workers’ control of production and with the return of industry to normal conditions. Strikes and demonstrations are harmful in Petrograd. We ask you to put an end to all strikes on economic and political issues, to resume work and to carry it out in a perfectly orderly manner… Every man to his place. The best way to support the Soviet Government these days is to carry on with one’s job”(!)
It is therefore clear that the analysis contained in the left opposition’s text directed at the majority faction of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party who had opted for the peace policy, represented the only revolutionary position of that era: the worldwide extension of the civil war was, and for even better reasons still is, the only way to realize communism. Furthermore, it allows one to condemn as counterrevolutionary every kind of compromise with any imperialist state and all those positions that consist in characterizing as “socialist” measures all those economic policies or “subsistence management” within the revolutionary zone before the state and the capitalist relations of production have been destroyed worldwide. In opposition to the State Capitalist perspective advocated by Lenin, the perspective that accords with the Zimmerwald and Kienthal proposals where the revolutionary left, along with Lenin himself, defined the revolutionary task: “transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war”!
After Brest-Litovsk: The abandonment of the world revolution. Defense of the Russian state. Compromise with the imperialist powers.
Once the peace treaty was signed, the question of Brest-Litovsk—and more generally, the question of the extension of the revolution—would continue to provoke a great deal of turmoil in the revolutionary movement. Thus, echoing the positions of the left, Rosa Luxemburg published a text in which she condemned the capitulation of the Bolsheviks, a capitulation that could drag them towards the “grotesque coupling of Lenin and Hindenburg”, that is, to the establishment of German-Russian relations on all levels (see “The Russian Tragedy”, Spartacus Letter No. 11, September 1918). It is thus understandable why she was to oppose the creation of the Third International: not in order to preserve, by giving it a facelift, the Second International (a calumny that would be spread by Stalinism), since she was fully aware of the latter’s collapse (the best proof of this fact was the formation of the German Communist Party in December 1918), but due to her fear that this new organization, in view of the isolation of the Russian revolution that had been sanctioned by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the fact that the German workers movement had not broken this isolation by destroying its own state, would become, with its headquarters established in Moscow, an organ for the defense of and subjection to the interests of the Russian state, which would try to prevent any attempts to extend and to consolidate the world revolution. Eberlein, the delegate of the German Communist Party at the founding Congress of the Third International (March 1919) was therefore mandated to vote against its creation. Reeling from the impact of the crushing blow of the suppression of the Berlin commune, which culminated in the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (January 1919), and undoubtedly impressed by the proclamations of the various speakers, as well as due to Bolshevik pressure, he contented himself with abstaining from the vote.
The opposition of Rosa Luxemburg, enriched afterwards by that of the German Communist Workers Party (which split from the KPD in 1920), was fully confirmed and justified by the counterrevolutionary tactics that were elaborated at the Second Congress of the Third International (frontism, electoralism, trade unionism) and the capitalist policy that the Komintern pursued throughout the world (in Germany in 1920-23, China in 1927, and then in Spain). Furthermore, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk effectively contained the seed of an inevitable policy of economic cooperation between the Russian state and all the capitalist countries. The USSR, which was not one of the beneficiaries of the Versailles Treaty despite the cancellation of Brest-Litovsk imposed on Germany by the victors two days after the November 11 armistice, was invited in January 1919 to attend a peace conference that was supposed to be held at Prinkipo, near Istanbul (then known as Constantinople). The Bolsheviks gave their approval to prospective talks to be held with the Entente powers, with the aim of continuing to pursue the peace policy inaugurated by Brest-Litovsk. They were even resolved to accept an exacerbation of the conditions of this policy by way of important concessions intended to obtain the non-intervention of France, England and the United States. A few days after the massacre of the workers and revolutionaries in Berlin and approximately one month before the opening day of the Conference that would issue the appeal to attend the founding Congress of the Third International, Chicherin issued the following statement on February 4, a statement that once again proved that the perspective of the extension of the revolution had been abandoned in favor of economic agreements: “… the Government of the Soviets declares that … it is ready to make concessions to the powers of the Entente on the question of debts. It does not refuse to recognise its financial obligations to those of its creditors who are citizens of the Entente powers…. It proposes to guarantee the payment of interest on the loans by a fixed quantity of raw materials…. It is ready to grant, to citizens of the Entente powers, mining, forestry and other concessions, on condition that the internal running of these concessions does not interfere with the social and economic order of Soviet Russia…. The fourth point, on which the Soviet government believes that the proposed negotiations might have a bearing, concerns territorial concessions: for the Soviet government does not wish to exclude in principle from the negotiations the question of the annexation by the Entente powers of certain Russian territories….” (Serge, op. cit., pp. 349-350). The Prinkipo Conference would not take place: the leaders of the White Russian forces, Kolchak and Deniken, encouraged by the generals of the Entente, did not respond to the offer to attend the Conference and ignored the Bolshevik statement because they thought that, with the arrival of spring, their military offensives against the Soviet power could resume and that the Soviets would be quickly overthrown. They thus took the same position as Clémenceau who, unlike Lloyd George and Wilson, wanted to strike hard against the Soviets. For two years, Russia would endure the blockade and various invasions on the part of the victors of 1918: as a result, the Bolsheviks quite naturally attempted to grant privileged status to their economic relations with the defeated powers, and most of all with Germany! This led directly to the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo with Germany (1922), whose terms would long remain secret. In order to justify this Treaty, which they presented as a model revolutionary achievement, the Bolsheviks designated the forces of the Entente as “especially counterrevolutionary” compared to the defeated German bourgeoisie and Lenin called the League of Nations a “den of imperialist thieves”. But this did not prevent them from participating in various “peace conferences” under the aegis of that same League of Nations that was a creation of the nations of the Entente for the purpose of contributing, under the cloak of pacifism, to the reconstruction of their economies that had been damaged by the war. These were: Genoa in April 1922, near which the Treaty of Rapallo would be signed; The Hague in July 1922; the Naval Conference of 1923; and then the Disarmament Conference of 1927. It would not be until the 1930s, however, when Stalin would decide to completely reorient Soviet policy with regard to economic agreements: the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations, signed the Franco-Soviet pact, supported the Popular Front in the democratic countries against the expansionism of the Axis Powers (the fascist countries)…. The about-face of 1939 (the German-Soviet Pact) would only be the most spectacular such event, and it would require the thrust of Hitler’s panzer divisions into Russian territory in order to bring about another U-turn by Stalin when he joined the Allies (1941).
The events had come full circle: the theories promulgated by Lenin regarding the need for truces and the utilization of inter-imperialist contradictions at the time of Brest-Litovsk had dragged the USSR onto the capitalist road by way of its integration into the embryonic imperialist alliances, or by its support for one or another of the imperialist rivals.
State Capitalism. Substitutionism. Terror.
The “internal decomposition” of Soviet power, the danger that was stressed by the left, would take place gradually, more or less at the same pace as the capitulations and compromises that issued from the refusal to accept the challenge of revolutionary civil war.
The social democratic identification of nationalization and socialization immediately led to an economic policy that amounted to State Capitalism presented as the ideal stepping stone to socialism: “When the working class has learned how to defend the state system against the anarchy of small ownership, when it has learned to organise large-scale production on a national scale, along state capitalist lines, it will hold, if I may use the expression, all the trump cards, and the consolidation of socialism will be assured.” (See Lenin, “‘Left Wing’ Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality”, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 323-334). Lenin continuously emphasized, on the other hand, that he had advocated this economic policy before the overthrow of Kerensky in a text from September 1917 entitled, “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It”: “For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly…. state-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism….” Furthermore, and this explains the effort to secure privileged economic relations with Germany that would find its expression in Rapallo, he recommended that Russians should take their inspiration from that country as a model of State Capitalism: “It so happens that it is the Germans who now personify, besides a brutal imperialism, the principle of discipline, organisation, harmonious co-operation on the basis of modern machine industry, and strict accounting and control. And that is just what we are lacking. That is just what we must learn....” (see “The Chief Task of Our Day”, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 159-63. Published according to the text of the pamphlet: N. Lenin, The Chief Task of Our Day, Moscow, 1918). It must be recalled that the identification of nationalization and socialization was not just a peculiar idea of Lenin’s; the entire revolutionary movement of that time was encumbered by this mistaken idea; thus, even the left wing currents nourished illusions about the value of nationalization: their opposition to Lenin on the economic plane was restricted to demanding an integral nationalization and real “workers control”. At the First Russian Congress of Regional Economic Councils, (May 1918), Lomov declared: “bureaucratic centralization ... was strangling the forces of the country. The masses are being cut off from living, creative power in all branches of our economy” (See Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, Solidarity, London, 1970, p. 43). By articulating the themes of control “from below” as opposed to “from above”, and “workers management” as opposed to “captains of industry”, they helped to engender the later “economistic” ideas of the Workers Opposition (Kollontai, Shliapnikov), which, criticizing Lenin’s “Jacobinism”, attempted to give the trade unions supremacy with relation to the party. However, the left wing critiques of “a labour policy designed to implant discipline among the workers under the flag of 'self-discipline', the introduction of labour service for workers, piece rates, and the lengthening of the working day” (from “Theses on the Current Situation”, quoted by Brinton, op. cit., p. 39) and, more generally, their criticism of the utilization of the Taylor System, of capitalist industrialists, and of economic pacts with imperialist powers, reflected a class relation that was linked to their position on the need for revolutionary war. In addition, despite their illusions about nationalization, they clearly depicted what the State Capitalism that Lenin was dreaming about would look like: “We stand for the construction of the proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by the ukases of the captains of industry...if the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organization of labour no one can do this for it and no one can compel it to do this. The stick, if raised against the workers, will find itself in the hands of a social force which is either under the influence of another social class or is in the hands of the soviet power; but the soviet power will then be forced to seek support against the proletariat from another class (e.g. the peasantry) and by this it will destroy itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism and socialist organization will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all: something else will be set up - state capitalism” (Osinski, from The Communist, No. 2, ibid.).
The “internal decomposition” of the power of the soviets was facilitated by the substitutionist conception of the Bolshevik majority and Lenin with respect to the dictatorship of the proletariat: the latter could be assumed, in the name of the working class, by the party or by the general secretary of the party, that is, by one person! Lenin’s political views were in complete accordance with his economic perspectives: “In regard to the second question, concerning the significance of individual dictatorial powers from the point of view of the specific tasks of the present moment, it must be said that large-scale machine industry—which is precisely the material source, the productive source, the foundation of socialism—calls for absolute and strict unity of will, which directs the joint labours of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people. The technical, economic and historical necessity of this is obvious, and all those who have thought about socialism have always regarded it as one of the conditions of socialism. But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one” (see Lenin, “The Immediate Tasks Facing Soviet Power”, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 235-77). This substitutionism also took the form of the identification of the party with the state; once again, it was rooted in the social democratic aspects of Lenin’s analysis of the state. For, despite certain revolutionary perspectives expressed in his book (perspectives shared by Marx himself or derived from Pannekoek’s writings of 1912-1913), The State and Revolution, Lenin only conceived of the destruction of the capitalist state as an “eviction” of the management of the capitalist state apparatus in favor of the party that is based on the proletariat and that would thus carry out a real “coup d’état” in order to seize power in accordance with procedures similar to those formulated by Blanqui. Thus, with regard to the deliberations regarding the attack on the Winter Palace in Petrograd, he did not want the question of the insurrection to be debated by the Soviets since he thought, unlike Trotsky, that the basis of the insurrection should be as narrow as possible. Except with regard to the question of the use of violence as opposed to social democratic legalism, the Bolshevik majority, like Marx before the experience of the Paris Commune, were captives of the theory of the “conquest of the state apparatus”. The capitalist state as such was not destroyed: the “overthrown” bourgeois state gave way to a so-called proletarian state! Assimilating the party and the proletariat and identifying it with the State, Lenin wrote, immediately after the insurrection of October 1917, an article with the revealing title: “Will the Bolsheviks Retain Power?”
Established in December 1917 (concurrent with the first peace talks at Brest-Litovsk), the “political” police (Cheka), as an extension of the substitutionism of the party and as the inquisitional arm of the State apparatus, would provide a powerful impetus to the acceleration of the rate of “internal decomposition”. It was the establishment of a regime of Terror that was justified by the necessity of repression of the bourgeoisie that the soviets had to carry out, but which in fact responded to the coercive needs of an embryonic State Capitalism: “In a number of provincial cities, districts and villages of the Russian Federated Socialist Republic, the Chekas have not assimilated or correctly understood the political line of the soviet power. Quite frequently, the local Chekas have adopted methods and means of struggle that contradict the policies that the soviet power and our party have established for the near future, for example: 1) at the very moment when the soviet power, having been consolidated and having begun to consciously organize and restore the economy and the military force of the country, for which purposes it has decided to utilize all the technical abilities of the petty bourgeoisie, the local Chekas have not allowed this goal to be realized, because they have arrested these elements indiscriminately, and have thus counteracted the directives from the center and discredited the Cheka as an organ of State power; 2) at the very moment when the greatest attention must be devoted to the creation of the economic, military and railroad apparatus of the country, as reflected in the special decree adopted by the soviet of defense on December 3, 1918 to establish control over the activities of the Chekas, numerous Chekas and local administrative organs have misunderstood and misinterpreted the decree” (Order No. 113 of the Russian Cheka to the local Chekas regarding the modification and improvement of their operational methods, December 19, 1918, quoted by Jacques Baynac, La Terreur sous Lénine (1917-1924)). This Terror was directed primarily against the other parties (Left Social Revolutionaries, anarchists), and then later with greater intensity against workers strikes and demonstrations (see the accounts of the “massacres of Astrakhan” in March 1919, an episode not as well-known as Kronstadt, cited by Baynac, pp. 160-169): thus was the dictatorship over the proletariat established, that is, the dictatorship of capital!
With the intention of salvaging the revolutionary process threatened by the capitulation of Brest-Litovsk by means of intensified domestic repression of the bourgeoisie, the leftists nourished the same kind of illusions about the Terror that they did about the nationalization policy. They were among the best propagandists and servants of this police crackdown: “Proletarian coercion in all its forms, beginning with executions, is a method of delivering a communist man out of the material of a capitalist epoch” (Dzerzhinsky); “From now on we all must be Chekists” (Bukharin). Piatakov, president of the revolutionary tribunal of the Don region, said: “All failures to denounce will be considered as crimes and will be punished with all the force of the revolutionary laws”. Despite her social democratic errors (defense of the Constituent Assembly, elections, Democracy), Rosa Luxemburg criticized this Jacobin Terror and, more generally, the substitutionism of the Bolshevik Party with regard to the dictatorship of the proletariat: “… this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people.” (See Rosa Luxemburg, “The Russian Revolution”, in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1961, p. 78). Subsequently, the KAPD would fight against the maneuvers of the Third International that utilized frontism (that is, inter-class alliances) so that the “communist” parties of all countries could take power and establish their dictatorships over the proletariat by liquidating all opposition: this struggle was waged from the perspective of the Workers Councils, that is, from that of the revolutionary working class as a whole.
Compromise with the peasants and the nationalists. Creation of a national army.
The pressure of petty bourgeois elements and currents (essentially the peasants) was effectively decisive at the moment when the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, as the leftists claimed. The Central Committee majority faction and Lenin justified their position of “peace at any price” by means of the argument that the peasants would not support or even tolerate a revolutionary war. On the other hand, the Left Social Revolutionaries, who still shared political power with the Bolsheviks, wanted, to the contrary, to use the Russian peasantry to fight a national war in the name of the defense of the soil and of the small-scale property that had emerged as a result of the partition of the large estates, and attempted to take advantage of their hatred of the Germans by subjecting the peasants to a propaganda campaign waged around the theme of “resisting the foreign invaders who are seizing your property”. These two tactics with respect to the peasantry were contradictory from a capitalist point of view, but they did share the same counterrevolutionary basis: the abdication of the proletariat’s leading role in the process of social transformation; a role that must be conceived on a world scale and which cannot vary even if the working class is a minority class in a country on the sociological level, or in other words, according to purely quantitative criteria, as was the case in the Russia of 1917-1918! Thus, the communists of the left opposition condemned both the Left Social Revolutionaries as well as the Bolshevik majority: “To renounce the dictatorship of the proletariat in the name of war is just as unacceptable to us as to renounce it in the name of peace.” (See The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution: Minutes of the Central of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks), August 1917-February 1918. Translated by Ann Bone, London: Pluto Press, 1974, p. 216). Nonetheless, it must be recalled that Lenin himself found it necessary to fight against this kind of petty bourgeois pressure by calling for a complete break with the Kerensky Government in his “April Theses” (1917). The majority of the Bolsheviks leaders who had remained in Russia after 1914 and were primarily grouped around Kamenev, still advocated continued support for Kerensky’s Government, that is, in fact, for the continuation of the imperialist war as part of the Entente with the blessing of the Russian bourgeoisie. This position, however, which was clear enough on the political plane, would be accompanied by a social democratic economic program, and was in particular based on what Rosa Luxemburg had already referred to as the petty bourgeois slogan: “the land to the peasants”. In February 1918, on the question of Brest-Litovsk, Lenin ended up yielding to all the deceitful songs of the capitalist sirens: his political position (sign a peace treaty), having become a vehicle for the interests of the peasants, who only wanted to enjoy their new property, was adapted to his previous program with regard to the peasantry (partition of the landed estates).
Ultimately, there was a fight to the death for power between the two factions that defended the interests of the petty bourgeois layers: this fight culminated with the physical elimination of the Left Social Revolutionaries who, immediately after their assassination of Count von Mirbach, the German ambassador, tried to instigate a national uprising by staging a riot in Moscow (July 1918). Victor Serge provides an account of the outbreak of hostilities on this occasion: “Dzerzhinsky went to see the Central Committee of the Left S-R party: there he learnt that the party assumed the entire responsibility for the assassination, and was taken prisoner. A detachment of special troops from the Cheka under the command of Popov formed the principal nucleus of the Left S-R forces, which that evening took the offensive at several points of the city. They took the central post office by surprise, and made haste to send telegrams everywhere decreeing as null and void any decisions of the Council of People’s Commissars, ‘the Socialist-Revolutionary party being from now on the only governing party’. ‘The people want war with Germany!’ declared the Left S-Rs….” (Serge, op. cit., p. 262). It was immediately after these events that the Terror was really inaugurated and the Bolshevik Party obtained the exclusive monopoly of political power: “… Soviet institutions, beginning with the local Soviets and ending with the Vee-Tsik and the Council of People’s Commissars, manned solely by Communists, now function in a vacuum: since all the decisions are taken by the party, all they can do is give them the official rubber-stamp.” (Serge, Ibid., pp. 265-266). The Russian revolutionary process became even more isolated: German pressure despite the Treaty, the military intervention of the Entente (for example, the Anglo-French seizure of Murmansk on July 1), the uprising of the Kulaks (wealthy peasants, that is, major landowners), etc.; as a result, the maintenance of the dictatorship of the proletariat became impossible, and worse yet, it was only formally maintained in order to camouflage the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party, which replaced it and at that time represented the most decisive factor of the counterrevolution. The Left thesis of February 1918, which proclaimed that, “In the interests of the international revolution, we consider it expedient to accept the possibility of the loss of the Soviet power, which has now become purely formal”, was therefore vindicated and its revolutionary value was confirmed. Once again, it was Rosa Luxemburg who understood the meaning of the situation two months after the foreign and domestic upheavals that shook the Soviet power in July: “The end result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is thus to encircle, starve out and strangle the Russian revolution from all sides. But also within the country, in the terrain that the Germans did leave to the Bolsheviks, the power and the policies of the revolution were forced into difficult straits.” (Rosa Luxemburg, “The Russian Tragedy”, Spartacus, No. 11, September 1918; online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/09/11.htm).
The encirclement of the Russian revolution as a result of the refusal to carry out a guerrilla war based on proletarian guerrilla groups such as the left had advocated, led the Bolshevik majority, which rejected all initiative on the part of the masses and any military organization centered only on the proletariat, to resolve upon the creation of a real “national army” called the “Red Army”. Thus, the Vtsik (the Russian Executive Committee of the Soviets) voted on April 22, 1918, in favor of national military training, universal and compulsory, for all men between the ages of 16 and 40. With the intention of recruiting from all classes of the population and, above all, the peasants, the creation of this army was confided to Trotsky and was immediately established on an inter-classist and national, and therefore, counterrevolutionary terrain. The military implications of this political decision were the institution of a General Staff, the appointment of officers by the latter rather than their selection by irregular troops, who were to be replaced by regular soldiers, and the reintroduction of military insignia. Furthermore, the officers were drawn from the mass of former czarist or Kerenskyist officers since, “… those former generals who work conscientiously in the difficult and unfavorable conditions of today, even if they are of a conservative turn of mind, deserve incomparably more respect from the working class than pseudo-socialists who engage in intrigue in various holes and corners….” (See Trotsky, How the Revolution Armed, Vol. I, documents from April-June 1918). Opposing the theory of this so-called revolutionary army, the left theses denounced “the practical reestablishment in the army of the old officer corps and the command of the counterrevolutionary generals”.
The soviet power was even more encircled militarily and politically after Brest-Litovsk insofar as the “right of national self-determination” (another petty bourgeois slogan!) immediately demonstrated its counterrevolutionary character. Once the Bolsheviks signed their agreements with the nationalists in the Ukraine, Finland, and the Baltic countries … all these “liberated” countries were immediately transformed into additional military bases for the organization of offensives against the territory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The formation of so-called democratic governments and parliaments in these countries marked the beginning of a generalized repression and propaganda against the communists. The “right of national self-determination” that was proclaimed by Wilson, the president of the United States, in his “14 Points” for peace, and that was also advocated by Lenin from the “April Theses” to Brest-Litovsk, led to results that were the complete opposite of those predicted by Lenin: instead of engendering the sympathy for or at least the neutrality of these “buffer States” towards the proletarian revolution, it reinforced imperialism. This experience clearly showed that with the entry of capital into its stage of decline, inaugurated by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, revolutionaries could no longer support, as Marx and Engels had in the 19th century, the principle of independence for new nations, since the latter were incapable of being anything but imperialist expressions of the struggle for markets and military zones of influence. “The German Government made haste to consolidate the advantages accruing to it from the treaty. On March 7, 1918, it signed a treaty of peace with the ‘white’ government of Finland, then engaged in a bitter civil war against the Finnish Socialist Workers’ government, which had concluded a treaty with the Soviet Government a week earlier, and had for the past two months enjoyed the support of Russian units. At the beginning of April a German army under Von der Goltz landed in Finland; and a month later the civil war was over—except for the ‘white terror’ which followed it. In the Ukraine the German troops steadily advanced till they had occupied the whole country, ineffectively harried by SR and Bolshevik partisan detachments supported or encouraged from Moscow. On April 22 Chicherin protested against a German advance into the Crimea beyond the frontiers of the Ukraine as laid down at Brest-Litovsk or as claimed by any Ukrainian government….” (See E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. III, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1961, p. 78).
The opposition of the Left Communists. Its positive and negative aspects.
The struggle over all the political implications of Brest-Litovsk (abandonment of the world revolution, defense of the Russian State, compromise with the peasantry, treaties with nationalist governments) was continued with bitter debates in the Soviets as well as within the Party and its Central Committee. Lenin could only finally obtain a majority thanks to the support of Trotsky (in the form of his abstention at the Central Committee’s session of February 23), who had previously been an advocate of the “neither war, nor peace” position. This victory was only gained with great difficulty, because a consultative survey of the Soviets in February 1918 proved to be clearly unfavorable for the “peace at any price” policy: six provincial cities voted in favor of peace and twenty for war, eighty-eight districts, cities and towns voted for peace while eighty-five for war. This was not a plebiscite that could be easily dismissed. The responses to this survey, which was carried out by the soviet of peoples commissars, came from various soviets from all over the country; but in March 1918, the soviets were still really democratic and representative institutions and besides, the questions had been framed and edited with strict impartiality, except perhaps for the last sentence, which said: “The first point of view is defended by the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks and Lenin; the second point of view by the Central Committee of the Left SRs….” (See Louis Fischer, The Life of Lenin, Harper Colophon Books, New York, 1964, p. 214); on the basis of this latter sentence of the survey it can be seen that great care was taken to camouflage the dissent within the Bolshevik Central Committee and to reduce the “revolutionary war” position to a position of the Left SRs!
After having subjected the leaders of the Party and the government to judgment regarding the treaty and after having addressed the question of a split—“The Moscow Regional Bureau, considers a split in the party in the very near future scarcely avoidable and it sets itself the aim of helping to unite all consistent revolutionary-Communist elements who equally oppose both advocates of the conclusion of a separate peace and all moderate, opportunist elements in the party” (Declaration of February 24, 1918 following its vote of censure of the Central Committee)—the leftists remained within the Party and their critiques of the Bolshevik majority were extended to all aspects of its politics; it was a generalized opposition!
At the next (Seventh) Party Congress after the peace treaty was signed, which took place on March 6-8, 1918, Lenin, in addition to presenting his theses on Brest-Litovsk, also sought to obtain support for certain modifications he proposed regarding the party name and program. These modifications were limited to changing the name of the organization (“communist” instead of “social democratic”, which up until that time had been its official name!), and adding a few sentences about imperialism and the state taken from his texts, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism and The State and Revolution. The real reason for Lenin’s proposals was to make his own policies formulated after the “April Theses” official party doctrine and to impose it on those cadres (Kamenev, Stalin, etc.) who were then advocating the perspective of a “democratic-bourgeois” process: support for Kerensky, rejection of the insurrection before October…. The Leftists, Bukharin, Sokolnikov, Smirnov, etc., assumed the task of disclosing the purely formal and tactical nature of these proposed modifications: When they proposed the abolition of the old theoretical part of the program, which was totally obsolete in their view, in order to exclusively define the tasks of the imperialist epoch and, consequently, of the era of the socialist revolution, Lenin became quite agitated. In his view, the transition period was no longer situated in socialism, it was identified as a stage within capitalism that could be implemented in a single country: “… in order not to lose our way in these twists and turns, in order not to get lost at times when we are taking steps backward, times of retreat and temporary defeat or when history or the enemy throws us back—in order not to get lost, it is, in my opinion, important not to discard our old, basic Programme; the only theoretically correct line is to retain it. Today we have reached only the first stage of transition from capitalism to socialism here in Russia.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 85-158, “Report on the Review of the Programme and on Changing the Name of the Party”). Furthermore, since according to his view of imperialism, there was no need for each capitalist to possess foreign markets known as “extra-capitalist” markets as locations for the realization of surplus value, Lenin previously believed in the possibility of a long term hiatus in its expansionism and militarism. He admitted his error but did not learn any lessons concerning the extension of the revolution as the sole proletarian imperative imposed by imperialism: “History has not provided us with that peaceful situation that was theoretically assumed for a certain time, and which is desirable for us, and which would enable us to pass through these stages of transition speedily. We see immediately that the civil war has made many things difficult in Russia, and that the civil war is interwoven with a whole series of wars.” (Ibid., “Report…”).
The leftists then exposed Lenin’s contradictions with regard to the question of the state. Bukharin called for the definition of socialism as a society without a state and claimed that the power of the Soviets (the dictatorship of the proletariat) therefore did not represent a “new type of state”, even one “without bureaucracy, without police, without a standing army”, as Lenin had sought to define it in The State and Revolution. The proletariat, since it is effectively the last class in history, can only unambiguously assert and implement in practice its rule over the social process and other classes. Without any mystifications to articulate for the purpose of deceiving a different class in the future, it does not attempt to dissimulate this rule behind a phraseology and formal measures of the administrative and democratic type for the purpose of preserving and managing a new status quo between all classes. In this respect, the action of the proletariat is the material proof that the state, behind the ideological screen of arbiter among the classes, has never been anything in reality except the instrument of rule of one class over another. But since the working class represents the interests of humanity as a whole, which has no separate economic interest to defend, the assertion and implementation of its rule, of its “dictatorship”, rapidly lose their reason for existence after the destruction of world capital and of all of its states. From the beginning, the institution of proletarian power, which can be nothing other than the Workers Councils, contains the seeds of its own destruction, since it can only exist as a function of rule over the old class and its counterrevolutionary attacks. This institution, as a result of all of its social content, is opposed to the very idea of the state, even a “proletarian” one! After the Russian experience, the term “state functions” seems to be the most satisfactory way to describe the need for the coercive character of this proletarian power with respect to capital and its defenders, and the extent to which the working class will therefore assume the role of the last “government over persons”. Terms like “Commune-State”, the expression used by Engels after the Paris Commune, or “semi-state”, do not appear to sufficiently convey the immediacy and simultaneity of the process of extinction of all “state functions”, the essential motor force of the transition, beyond the extension of the revolution and the complete destruction of capitalist relations of production (the production of commodities and wage labor), which would amount to a simple “administration of things” and will pave the way for integral communism.
One may get an idea of the abyss that separated Lenin from the perspective of the Left, and even from some of his previous analyses, by examining the declarations he made that postponed the extinction of the state to the distant future: “Just when will the state wither away? We shall have managed to convene more than two congresses before the time comes to say: see how our state is withering away. It is too early for that. To proclaim the withering away of the state prematurely would distort the historical perspective” (Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 85-158, “Speech against Bukharin’s amendment to the Resolution on the Party Program”, pp. 148-149). The totalitarian super-state that would be identified with Stalinism originated in the defense of the state under a so-called proletarian form during the era of Lenin.
After the April 1918 Congress the opposition constituted a fraction known by the name of left communists. It rapidly lost its influence in Petrograd after the repeated attacks by the Party majority aimed at discrediting the Left Communists by any means. Until June, however, it did maintain its control over the leadership of the Moscow Regional Committee of the Bolshevik Party, and over various committees in the Urals and groups of sympathizers throughout the country. Its main bastions of support were therefore in the great industrial centers of Russia. After having published a daily newspaper in Petrograd that was mostly focused on propaganda, they transferred it to Moscow and made it a monthly journal for theoretical reflection. This was The Communist, whose four issues were published between April and June of 1918 (see Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State. First Phase, 1917-1922, pp. 134-137).
The fifteen theses of April 4, not only set forth all their critiques with regard to the implications of Brest-Litovsk both domestically and internationally, and from the political as well as the economic points of view, but also attempted to offer real revolutionary perspectives: “The proletarian Communists want a quite different kind of politics. We must not try to preserve a Soviet oasis in the north of Russia, at the price of concessions which will transform it into a petty-bourgeois State” (Serge, op. cit., p. 220). However, with the exception of the theme of sacrifice and agitation for the international revolution, the measures they took in Russia could only remain in thrall to the miserable illusions that encumbered the entire revolutionary movement of that era: integral nationalization was confused with socialization, management from below was opposed to management from above by factory directors, the Terror was intensified as the only way to liquidate the bourgeoisie…. But none of these weaknesses or theoretical errors can by any means diminish the value of the left opposition, especially with respect to the economic and political courses that would be instituted as a consequence of the rejection of revolutionary war: against Trotsky’s motto, “work, order, discipline”, against State Capitalism, against bureaucratization at the expense of the Soviets…. The Ural Committees unsuccessfully called for the convocation of an extraordinary party congress to address these issues. Lenin responded with a hastily-organized conference of the Petrograd section of the party that called upon the left to put an end to its separate organizational existence, an appeal that was later repeated in a pamphlet entitled, “‘Left-Wing’ Childishness”, (May 1918), which constituted a merciless attack on the critical positions of the revolutionaries. The official prohibition of fractions by the Tenth Congress in 1921 and the publication of Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder—a text directed against the “European” left tendencies, published that same year—would be nothing but the logical continuation of these first reactions!
Thus, the problems to which the left attempted to call attention were not resolved “by discussion, persuasion or compromise, but by a high-pressure campaign in the party organizations, backed by a barrage of violent invective in the party press and in the pronouncements of the party leaders. Lenin’s polemic set the tone, and his organizational lieutenants brought the membership into line.” (R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960, p. 87).
The left opposition was still capable of expressing its views as a fraction at the end of May 1918 on the occasion of the First Russian Congress of Regional Economic Councils, held in Moscow. On the one hand, however, the fourth issue of The Communist (which would be the last issue!) had to appear under the caption of a “private” magazine of a tendency; on the other hand, all its proposals were rejected by a large majority. Even so, a decree of June 28, 1918 ordered the nationalization of all major industrial firms in Russia, which was one of the proposals of the left at the Congress of the Regional Economic Councils. This decree was drafted and voted upon very hastily because Articles 12 and 13 of an accessory agreement to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk stipulated that any expropriated enterprises either had to be returned to their owners within one year, or, if they had been nationalized, their owners were to receive compensation equal to the value of the property seized. To prevent Russian industry from falling into the hands of the Germans, Lenin preferred to choose the lesser evil. This decree is more than enough proof to show that the nationalizations were nothing but attempts to defend national capital, and therefore had nothing to do with socialism and perfectly highlighted the fact that the economic proposals of the left presented as the “this far, but no further” of the revolutionary process in relation to those of Lenin (see the apologetics offered by M. Brinton in The Bolsheviks and Workers Control) were also situated within the framework of an attempt to repair the system.
The theoretical limitations of the left were even more evident when, immediately after the proclamation of the nationalization decree, it experienced its first splits. Radek, for example, admitted that the decree guaranteed the “proletarian basis of the regime” and therefore had no problem with accepting the principle of management from above, even “by one person!” After the Fifth Russian Congress of Soviets, the need to distance themselves from the attempted insurrection by the Left Social Revolutionaries led the Bolshevik opposition to accept the repression and the centrifugal process of splits continued; not only Radek, but Bukharin as well, returned to the fold of Lenin and the majority. This marked the definitive twilight of the fraction. Osinski, with some other leftists, formed a new tendency, “the democratic centralists”, which continued to agitate for “workers control of production” and constituted the link between the erroneous ideas of the left with regard to this issue and those of the “workers opposition” of 1920-1921.
The radical difference between the process of a bourgeois revolution and that of a proletarian revolution
As a response to the world economic crisis of capitalism and the imperialist war, as the first movement of class struggle that would be generalized on an international scale through the early 1920s, as the herald of the political organization of the revolutionary proletariat as a whole: the Soviets (which had first arisen in 1905), the Russian Revolution was incontestably bathed in a proletarian aura. The Bolshevik Party, which had not shed its social democratic features (a latent substitutionism that had been theorized in 1902 in What Is To Be Done?, a continued insistence on the separation of the minimum program and the maximum program, advocacy of the “right of national self-determination”, etc.), only took up revolutionary positions under the pressure of events and the proletarian process itself: withdrawing all support from Kerensky, all power to the Soviets, the decision in favor of insurrection. In his History of the Russian Revolution (See L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Sphere Books, London, 3 Vols.), Trotsky emphasizes that the Party was often reluctantly dragged along behind the action of the working class. And, quite frequently, due to the weight of its social democratic origins, it was on the verge of collapse and did not get back on track until the last possible minute: the best example of this is the reversal represented by The April Theses, since on the political plane these theses implied a break with support for the democratic-bourgeois process—a process which had been underway since February 1917!
After the October insurrection, besides its openly proclaimed substitutionism with regard to the question of power and its erroneous identification of this power with “a new type of state”, the Bolshevik Party, by advocating peace at any price and the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, contributed to the objective isolation of the Russian Revolution. From then on, not only would it be incapable of supporting revolutionary positions even under the pressure of the revolutionary process (rejection of the leftists’ proposals), but it would become the principle active factor for counterrevolution, first in Russia, and then on an international scale.
Thus, in combination with the problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the state,1 the use of violence and, more generally, the transition period, the issues of the extension of the revolution and revolutionary war are fundamental for the period that was to come. It is not a matter of minimizing its importance by reducing it to its purely military or tactical dimension, as we said at the beginning of this text. It must be resolved long before we can address the configuration of integral or so-called “higher” communism. With regard to this latter topic we possess undeniable “signposts”, as Rosa Luxemburg called them, but the interminable debates about them can only drag us down, in the best case, to utopianism and fantasy, and in the worst case to aberrant notions and even the abandonment of the Marxist method; which is what has been embraced by many contemporary elements and groups, for whom the Hegelian precept, “All that is real is rational, and all that is rational is real”, tends to replace the dialectical, materialist and historical perspective of the overcoming of contradictions and the rise of new contradictions.
The controversy surrounding Brest-Litovsk issues from the choice that must be made between “peace” and “revolutionary war”. The need to extend the revolution that the left sought to resolve in favor of the latter, directly posed the question of the comprehension of the radical differences between the process of the proletarian revolution and the process of the bourgeois revolution. After its seizure of political power in one country, the bourgeois revolution was able to call a “truce”, and even several truces, without any danger being posed to the realization of its historical goals. This is because the essential power (that is, the economic power) of capitalism had already been considerably developed within the old system itself, feudalism, and had already proven its superiority as a mode of production by its accomplishments. Against the last barrier represented by the political rule of the nobility on the basis of monarchy, the seizure of state power by the bourgeoisie is nothing but the crowning achievement of its economic process! The diverse forms assumed by political power in France after 1789 (republic, consulate, empire, parliamentary monarchy) testify to the absence of any danger of regressing to feudalism: these state forms are nothing but the expressions of struggles between backward and modern fractions of the bourgeoisie. Since it is not a monolithic class, it can wage a war of national defense that has a revolutionary character, but outside France, even though it contributed to the downfall of the old regimes, it very quickly revealed itself to be, beyond the ideological bounds of the “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” variety, as a war of imperialist pillage and annexation (the military campaigns from Bonaparte to Napoleon III). To achieve its goals (preservation of its advantages vis-à-vis the competition), a national bourgeoisie can contract all kinds of alliances, even with arch-reactionary regimes: such was the case with regard to the alliance of England and Prussia with Austria and Russia against the “Great Army” of Napoleon. The process of the proletarian revolution is practically the opposite. The working class, on the economic plane, possesses nothing within capitalism, besides its labor power that it sells according to the vagaries of the market; in order to advance to communism, which is the next, higher mode of production after capitalism, it must therefore first of all destroy the cornerstone of capitalist relations, that is, the state as an instrument of bourgeois rule and assert its own political power, which contains in embryo the extinction of all state measures that result from the fact that all of society is divided into classes. Since it is a single class, the proletariat can only attempt to extend its power on an international scale or else face the consequence of simply prolonging the existence of capitalism in another form. Because the market is global, the destruction of the state and the capitalist relations of production must be realized on that same level. Nationalization, workers control, self-management … all those measures that have been characterized as “stepping stones”, “progressive”, or “socialist”, prior to the realization of this process of destruction, have been revealed to be nothing but forms of the self-adjustment of capitalism during its period of decadence. Preparation for waging revolutionary war is the only possible choice for a Council Dictatorship since the goal of the proletarian revolution is to put an end to the commodity system and wage labor primarily in order to allow for the creation of a system of production that is not determined by profit but by human needs that must be satisfied, and then by the advent of a society of abundance (integral communism). Like the Bolshevik Left after their fruitless opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, M. Brinton believes that: “The basic question: who manages production after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? should therefore now become the centre of any serious discussion about socialism” (See Brinton’s “Introduction” to The Bolsheviks and Workers Control, op. cit., p. xiii). His error is the same one that Chalieu (a/k/a Cardan or Castoriadis) made, who, identifying capitalism with previous modes of production, imagined that he found an essential common denominator for the understanding of exploitation in all class societies. For both, the separation of the producers from the means of production and the products of their labor is condensed in the rule over these producers, as simple executors, by those who direct the economic process. The solution therefore appeared to them to be the establishment of a reversed domination for the purpose of overcoming “leader-led” relations (See “The Relations of Production in Russia”, issue no. 2 of the journal, Socialism or Barbarism, May-June 1949, in Cornelius Castoriadis: Political and Social Writings, Vol. 1, Tr. and Ed. David Ames Curtis, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1988, pp. 107-157). “Workers management of production” is, according to this view, the means to create communism: look at all the illusions nourished by such a means that is no better than nationalization when it comes to breaking with the capitalist laws and purposes of that production (market, accumulation). We have a different formula for self-management, i.e.: the management of capital by the workers themselves!
Lenin remained totally ignorant of these radical differences between the process of a proletarian revolution and that of a bourgeois revolution. To the contrary, in order to justify his peace policy, he proffered the example of the way the Prussian national bourgeoisie carried out its resistance during the era of the Napoleonic Wars. To obtain the maximum amount of concrete data concerning the maneuvers of Prussia and, more generally, with regard to all the events that took place at the beginning of the 19th century, he became an assiduous reader of N. Karayev’s History of Western Europe. Thus, on the day following the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, he declared (in an article published on March 6, 1918 in Pravda): “Anyone who wants to benefit by the lessons of history, and not to hide from the responsibility they impose, or shut his eyes to them, let him recall at least the wars of Napoleon I against Germany. Many a time did Prussia and Germany conclude with the conqueror peace treaties ten times more onerous and humiliating (than ours), even to the extent of accepting a foreign police, even to the extent of undertaking to furnish troops to help Napoleon I in his campaigns of conquest. Napoleon I in his treaties with Prussia harassed and dismembered Germany ten times worse than Hindenburg and Wilhelm have pinned us down now. Yet there were people in Prussia who did not bluster, but signed ultra-‘disgraceful’ peace treaties signed them because they had no army, signed terms ten times more oppressive and humiliating, and then in spite of everything rose up in revolt and to wage war. That happened not once, but many times. History knows of several such peace treaties and wars. Of several cases of respite. Of several new declarations of war by the conqueror. Of several cases of an alliance between an oppressed nation and an oppressing nation, which was a rival of the conqueror and no less a conqueror itself (be it noted by the advocates of a ‘revolutionary war’ without accepting aid from imperialists!). Such was the course of history. So it was. So it will be. We have entered an epoch of a succession of wars. We are moving towards a new, patriotic war. We will arrive at that war in the midst of a ripening socialist revolution. And while on that difficult road the Russian proletariat and the Russian revolution will be able to cure themselves of blustering and revolutionary phrasemaking, will know how to accept even the most onerous peace treaties, and then rise again. We have signed a Tilsit Peace. We shall attain our victory and our liberation, just as the Germans after the Peace of Tilsit of 1807 attained their liberation from Napoleon in 1813 and 1814. The interval between our Tilsit Peace and our liberation will probably be shorter, for history is moving faster. Down with blustering! On with the improvement of discipline and organisation in all earnest!” (Lenin, “A Serious Lesson and a Serious Responsibility”, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 79-84). Could there be a more lyrical apology for the realism of the national bourgeoisie or a more straightforward identification with the role of the national bourgeoisie? Lenin was a past master at reasoning by analogy with the historical past as if the material, objective and subjective conditions had not changed in the meantime, and he had a particular liking for comparisons with the bourgeois course of development. This tendency is also evident in all his economic arguments in favor of his peace policy: “While the revolution in Germany is still slow in ‘coming forth’, our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it. Our task is to hasten this copying even more than Peter hastened the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, and we must not hesitate to use barbarous methods in fighting barbarism” (“‘Left Wing’ Childishness”, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 323-334).
With respect to the first historical situation of this kind, it was the position of the left which contributed to the formation of the perspective of a proletarian revolution framed by the problem of its extension from a power established in one sector, isolated in the absence of the victory of an insurrection outside this sector. They did not take their examples from the process followed by the bourgeois, the Jacobins and Bonaparte, who sought to export, at gunpoint and by means of a welter of alliances, their ideas about “free trade”! Not only did they define the revolutionary war of the proletariat as a war of resistance against all the imperialist powers without distinction, as indispensable support for the class struggle throughout the entire world and therefore for the advent of the international revolution, but also as the condition sine qua non for the preservation of the proletarian character of the already existing proletarian power. The interest of the world movement was given a higher priority than the preservation at any price of the isolated power and could even demand its destruction, contrary to the bourgeois process, since in that way it could be prevented from running the risk of being transformed into its opposite, that is, of becoming an anti-proletarian institution at the service of the requirements of the survival of capitalism. In issue no. 4 of their journal, The Communist (May 1918), the leftists wrote: “We do not seek to conceal from ourselves the possibility that the rigorous application, on both the home and the international front, of a proletarian policy has many dangers, and might result in our overthrow for the moment; but we believe it to be better that we should, in the interests of the world proletarian movement, succumb to the overwhelming pressure of external forces while we are still in an authentic state of proletarian power, than that we should survive by adapting ourselves to the circumstances” (quoted by Serge, op. cit., pp. 203-204).
Today we are still experiencing the pressure of the mystifications engendered by the preservation at any price of proletarian power in Russia: under the cloak of Marxism, it was the instrument of the most terrible of counterrevolutions. Rosa Luxemburg had already perceived the implications of the inevitable compromises of this power: “An alliance between the Bolsheviks and German imperialism would be the most terrible moral blow that could be delivered against international socialism”, and formulated the same conclusion as the Russian left: “Any political destruction of the Bolsheviks in a honest struggle against the overwhelming forces and hostile pressures of the historical situation would be preferable to their moral destruction” (Rosa Luxemburg, “The Russian Tragedy”, op. cit.).
The Third International: a fortress for the defense of the Russian state
The Third International, also called the Communist International, was born almost a year to the day after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 4, 1919). It would therefore appear to be evident that after all was said and done Lenin’s peace policy had not prevented the Soviet power from continuing to uphold the perspective of the world revolution and working to form an organization devoted to its furtherance. Beyond all the proclamations and institutions, however, we must examine, both before and during the creation of the Third International, the real foreign policy that was implemented by the Bolsheviks, who had already replaced the Soviets and had identified themselves with the state in order to take power in Russia. Furthermore, we must examine how this organization with a world mission was conceived, what role the proletariat was supposed to play in it, and with regard to this point in particular, what it represented vis-à-vis the first two Internationals.
The foreign policy of the Bolsheviks during the course of the summer of 1918 consisted in an increasing rapprochement with Germany. Both sides had an interest in this rapprochement: on the one hand, Russia was enduring allied invasion attempts; on the other hand, Germany, despite the transfer of its troops from the eastern to the western front thanks to Brest-Litovsk, had been experiencing significant reverses in the west after its spring offensives; having been further weakened, it thus needed to consolidate its peace with Russia. On August 27, 1918, in Berlin, three accessory agreements to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty were signed: a political addendum, a financial addendum, and an agreement for the exchange of confidential information (the famous “secret diplomacy” that was allegedly abolished by the Bolsheviks had now recovered all its rights, and this long before Rapallo!). As he was presenting these accessory agreements for the ratification of the Soviet Executive, Chicherin, who had replaced Trotsky as the Commissar of Foreign Affairs after Trotsky’s resignation following the signing of the peace treaty, declared: “In spite of the great differences between the regimes of Russia and Germany and the fundamental tendencies of both governments, the peaceful cohabitation of the two peoples, which has always been the object of our workers’ and peasants’ state, is at present equally desirable to the German ruling class….” (See E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1961, Vol. III, p. 86). These counterrevolutionary maneuvers by the Bolsheviks were in clear contradiction of the image of communist purity that Joffe had striven to represent from his ambassadorial post in Berlin. As for the normalization of Soviet foreign policy as state policy, the accessory agreements highlighted the role played by simple camouflage and ideological justification in contrast to all the spectacular proclamations about the extension of the revolution.
On the other hand, during the summer of 1918 the Bolsheviks had made multiple overtures for friendship to the United States. It must be recalled that, in May 1918, the Bolshevik’s representative, R. Robins, was given the mission to offer concessions in Russia to American capitalists in the name of the Soviet power on his return to Washington. President Wilson had revealed his desire to cooperate by sending a message of sympathy to the Fourth Congress of Soviets. Gambling on the continuing rivalry between the United States and Japan, the Bolsheviks were hoping to reduce the number of countries in the camp of the Allies and to therefore diminish the military threats of invasion. But the coalition of the Americans, with France, England and Japan, was once again consolidated and the Allied landings in Russia were the result: this is why the new rapprochement with Germany on the part of the Russians took place!
In Russia, during the first few days of November 1918, with the expulsion of Joffe by the infuriated German General Staff, followed by the outbreak of the revolutionary events on November 9, some hints of a change in Bolshevik policy became apparent. For the Bolsheviks intensified their proclamations concerning the imminence of the world revolution and their unfailing support for it. Then, on November 13, two days after the armistice and German surrender, the Bolsheviks annulled the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
The apparently resolute stance of the Bolsheviks does not, however, stand up to further scrutiny of all aspects of their policy. Thus, on November 8, they issued a proposal to the five major belligerent nations to open negotiations for a general peace. And on December 24, Litvinov, who had just been expelled from England, sent a telegram from Stockholm to President Wilson calling for peace: its contents were quite moderate, and avoided, for example, any reference to the world revolution. In mid-January 1919, Buckler, an official of the U.S. State Department, went to Stockholm to interview Litvinov. Litvinov told him that the Bolsheviks would be conciliatory with regard to any negotiations about Russia’s debts to foreign countries and would consider calling a halt to all propaganda in those countries as well as all others: “The Russians realize that in certain western countries conditions are not favorable for a revolution of the Russian type” (See E. H. Carr, op. cit., p. 110). It was when they became encouraged by these pledges that the English Prime Minister Lloyd George, with the support of the U.S. President Wilson, proposed to the victors of the imperialist war at the Paris peace conference held in late January that there should be “a truce of God” between “all of the different governments now at war within what used to be the Russian Empire”. On January 24 the note was sent inviting the Bolsheviks, among others, to attend a conference at Prinkipo. We have already seen why the conference at Prinkipo would not be held, despite the favorable response by Chicherin of February 4: a “White” army offensive encouraged by Churchill and Clémenceau! The Americans still tried to play the role of mediators: a delegate, W. Bullit, went to Petrograd on a confidential mission to once again sound out the Bolseviks regarding the question of peace. He spoke with Chicherin and Litvinov who reaffirmed, as did their response to the Prinkipo peace appeal, that Russia acknowledged its financial obligations. These talks failed because of English and French intransigence: blockade and invasion seemed to be better means than negotiations to get rid of the Bolsheviks; these operations would last until 1921, exhausting the Russian economy, but without attaining any decisive military results.
Bolshevik policy had not changed at all: under the cloak of the world revolution, it defended the interests of the Russian state to the greatest possible extent. The subsidence of the mass movement in Germany (as a result of the power of the social democrats, who controlled the workers councils and imposed elections to a legislative assembly, crushing of the revolutionaries in Berlin, in Bavaria….), combined with the constant military pressure, after the generalized offensives of the allies were launched, led to the re-opening of diplomatic relations between Russia and Germany. In the opportunist calculations of the Bolsheviks with regard to German capitalism, we must stress the particularly counterrevolutionary role played by Radek (in just a few months he had totally renounced his leftist positions!). By order of the German minister of war, he was transferred to a comfortable “cell” where he obtained favorable treatment, and his “cell” became a veritable “political salon”. Released in December 1919, he boarded with a retired general and then later with a commissar of police (!). He contributed to the implementation of a policy of peaceful coexistence concerning which Chicherin had spoken during the time of the accessory agreements to Brest-Litovsk: in opposition to the other imperialist states, the bourgeoisie of Germany, which, like Russia, had been dismembered, had the same objective interests as Russia (economic reconstruction, for example). These privileged relations would reach their highest degree of convergence on the occasion of Rapallo: “The entire recent evolution of international relations demonstrates the inevitability, in the current stage of historical development, of the temporal coexistence of the communist and bourgeois systems of property” (See R. Bourzanel, Rapallo: Birth of a Myth, p. 165; extract from the declaration of the central executive committee report on the Genoa Conference and the Treaty of Rapallo, May 18, 1922). Besides his diplomatic skills, Radek was the instrument of the Bolshevization of the German Communist Party and disbursed his funds like an old ward heeler. After the death of Rosa Luxemburg (of whom he had been a fierce opponent in Poland, where he had dealt the SDKPIL its first low blows!), he supported Levi even though he opposed his intention to exclude the leftists who went on to form the KAPD after the split (see the Letter to the Congress of Heidelberg), and later orchestrated Levi’s downfall when the latter distanced himself from the Bolsheviks, and placed the party entirely in the hands of Moscow with a political leadership that held the view that the revolution would be delayed and that promoted capitalist tactics (frontism, electoralism, trade unionism…).
The facts dispel all mythology, even where it passes itself off as revolutionary mythology! The Third International was immediately conceived from the perspective of defending the Russian state in all countries and for the support of its foreign diplomacy of a traditional type. The headquarters of its executive committee was established in Moscow, it immediately identified with the Bolshevik state and Party (Zinoviev, its president, acted in close collaboration with Chicherin, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, with regard to all questions), and Lenin could declare: “The new third ‘International Workingmen’s Association’ has already begun to coincide in a certain measure with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” (See issue No. 1 of Kommunisticheskii Internatsional, the organization’s newspaper, quoted by E. H. Carr, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 125-126).
At first, there was an international meeting organized by the Petrograd Soviet on December 19, 1918. Under the presidency of Gorki, heterogeneous currents met which held positions that were very close to most of the positions of Zimmerwald and Kienthal with respect to the imperialist war, the extension of the revolution and the role of the new organization. This meeting was held in response to the announcement of a conference to be held in Berne later that same month whose purpose was to attempt to rehabilitate the Second International. It must be recalled that the leaders of the social democracy had come to power in Germany in November and that they still possessed an overwhelming amount of influence over the proletariat (the renewed Second International would help to assure this predominance!), and that they could hinder the realization of “peaceful coexistence” of the Bolsheviks with capitalism, and first of all, with the German bourgeoisie. Thus, in January 1919, when the German Communist Party had been in existence for barely a couple of weeks and was practically the only existing Communist Party anywhere outside of Russia that was of any importance numerically, an invitation was issued from Moscow to “all the parties opposed to the Second International”. This broad criterion thus allowed for the incorporation of opportunist parties (for example, the German independent socialists who, on the other hand, had received financial subsidies from the Russian embassy during the era of Joffe)2 when it appeared that the Third International would gain a significant degree of influence that the Second International would never have among the working class.
This invitation, which was not revised despite the serious reverses suffered by the revolutionary movement in Germany (Berlin, January: massacre of the Spartacists by Noske’s henchmen), led to the founding Congress of March 1919. There were more than fifty delegates, but most of them came from Russia and its sphere of influence (Poland, Finland, Armenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia…). The only person who represented a significant Western European organization, Eberlein, was mandated to oppose the founding of the Third International. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, claimed as martyrs by Lenin after their deaths, had thought that the creation of a Third International was premature and would only lead to confusion, which would lead to the domination of the Bolsheviks over the organization. In their view, the Third International should not be founded for at least several more months and Leo Jogisches had even advised the delegate Eberlein to leave the meeting if a resolution in favor of founding the Third International were to be approved. Eberlein declared: “Real communist parties exist in only a few countries; in most, they have been created only in the last few weeks; in many countries where there are communists today they have as yet no organization…. What is missing is the whole of western Europe; Belgium and Italy are not represented at all; the Swiss representative cannot speak in the name of the party; France, England, Spain and Portugal are missing; and America is equally not in a position to say what parties would support us.”3 (See E. H. Carr, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 122). Despite his objections, we have seen that he abstained. Nothing interfered, then, with the general harmony and on March 4, 1919, the conference was unanimously transformed into the First Congress of the so-called Communist International. Among the cloud of revolutionary proclamations, it is easy to discern a large number of analyses and ideas that do not entirely break with the analyses and ideas of the social democracy. Thus, in his “Opening Speech” (See Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International: 1919-1943. Documents. Vol. I, 1919-1922), Lenin was capable of saying: “Today, for example, I read in an anti-socialist newspaper a report to the effect that the British government had received a deputation from the Birmingham Workers’ Council and had expressed its readiness to recognize the Councils as economic bodies. The Soviet system has triumphed not only in backward Russia, but also in the most developed country of Europe—in Germany, and in Britain, the oldest capitalist country”. Various texts, however, reflect the momentum of the international proletarian movement, such as, for example, the “Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World”, written by Trotsky. But the “Memorandum to the Workers of All Countries” issued by the Congress was the one document that most clearly demonstrated the role that would be played by the world organization after the smokescreen of the professions of communist faith had dissipated: the workers were invited above all to offer their unconditional support for the struggle of the “proletarian state” surrounded by capitalist states; and in order to do this, they had to put pressure on their governments by all possible means, “if necessary, by revolutionary means” (sic). Furthermore, this Memorandum insists upon the “admiration and gratitude” that the workers must show towards “Russian revolutionary proletariat and its leading party, the Bolshevik Communist Party”, thus setting the stage for the theme that went beyond the “defense of the U.S.S.R.”, the worship of the Party-State! (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congress of the Third International, translated by Alix Holt and Barbara Holland, Ink Links, 1980.)
The creation of the Third International was incapable of causing the Bolshevik policy to change because the Third International was its own emanation for the purpose, not of breaking the isolation of the Russian revolutionary process after Brest-Litovsk, but of serving the interests of the so-called proletarian state. After the Second Congress, which took place the following year, everything would fall into place: the proclamations and the appeals would yield to the elaboration of the openly counterrevolutionary tactics (frontism, parliamentarism…), while the “21 Conditions” of admission fell far short of shutting the door on repentant social democrats and other opportunists. Rosa Luxemburg was correct in opposing the formation of such an International and the KAPD was created as a result of a split in the KPD precisely because the members who were excluded refused to apply the tactics advocated by the “Communist” International in Germany. Admitted with the status of a sympathetic organization, the KAPD broke off all relations with the International after the Third Congress in 1921. Unlike the Italian Left (Bordiguism), which remained in the Third International as a fraction of the Italian Socialist Party, and which remained faithful to the discipline of the organization despite its opposition to participation in elections, the German Left never identified with Bolshevism and constituted the only revolutionary contribution that made a complete break with Bolshevism.4
The Third International was not an improvement over the Second International in this respect. E. H. Carr summarizes the situation quite well: “What had taken place in Moscow in March 1919 was not in fact the fusion of a number of national communist parties of approximately equal strength into an international organization, but the harnessing of a number of weak, in some cases embryonic and still unformed, groups to an organization whose main support and motive force was necessarily and inevitably the Soviet state. It was Soviet power which created the Comintern and gave it its influence and prestige; in return, it was natural to expect that international communist propaganda and action should help to defend that power at a moment when it was threatened by all the reactionary forces of the capitalist world” (E. H. Carr, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 125). Thus, instead of a coordination of national programs of the kind that characterized the Second International, there was the institutionalized preponderance of one single national program; that of the Bolshevik party identified with the needs of the Russian state. With regard to this matter there was no possibility of the creation of a world program. In this connection it must be pointed out that, prior to October 1917, a debate had pitted Lenin against a Moscow group, the predecessor of the left opposition (Bukharin, Lomov, Sokolnikov, Smirnov), a debate that would continue at the Seventh Party Congress in March 1918: for the latter group, it was indispensable, in the face of the imperialist period not only to conceive a maximum program that would break with the social democratic politics of the minimum program, but also to conceive a common program for all the revolutionary fractions of all countries that should prepare the ground for the constitution of a world party of the proletariat. In their view, this was the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by the particular needs of Russia: it is obvious that this position was completely clairvoyant!
If there has been any legacy or continuity of the Third International, it is the substitutionism of the Second and First Internationals, which considered themselves to be mass organizations which represented the proletariat as a whole. The First International effectively united numerous trade unions and workers leagues, even if its General Council sometimes acted like a political party and if the remnants of Jacobinism in Marx encouraged him to speak in the name of the whole working class.5 But the Second International had openly been an association of political parties with pretensions to being mass parties. The Third International did not by any means break with this orientation, advocating the establishment of factory cells by every party and the use of the trade unions as transmission belts for its directives (this was why the so-called “Red Trade Union International” was founded).
The extension of the revolution is above all a political question and not an organizational question. If the communist fractions must combine to form a world party, this party can by no means represent the proletariat or be a substitute for it, since its task is exclusively to contribute to the homogenization of class consciousness. The idea of any sort of continuity with the Internationals is completely obsolete because it perpetuates the confusion between the party and the proletariat. Now and in the future, in the real process, the proletarian movement, through its Councils, will set its own goals and establish its own international institutions, and the party, as a product of this movement, will act as an active factor in the sense of the application of the means for the realization of the proletariat’s goals.
- 1Concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat, see the article by C. Michel in Spartacus No. 4 entitled “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, an Extension of the Revolutionary Struggle”. Concerning the state, see the article that appeared in Revolution Internationale’s Bulletin of Research and Debate, No. 2 (May 1973), entitled “The State, the Proletarian Revolution and the Content of Socialism”, by the author of this book.
- 2Here are some extracts from the letter from Joffe to the independent social democrats Haase and Barth, members of the socialist government, who denied they had ever received their share of the funds, the arms and the ammunition:
“It goes without saying that I was not so unwise as to deliver personally and directly to Comrade Barth – a newcomer to the working-class movement who inspired in me only a limited confidence – the sums which were destined for the purchase of armaments ... People’s Commissary Barth, however, was perfectly aware that the hundreds of thousands of marks which he had admitted receiving from German comrades derived from my establishment as their ultimate source. He said as much in the conversation we had a fortnight before the revolution, when he reproached me for not having provided the two million marks he had asked for ... If only I had provided this sum, he said, the German workers would have been armed long ago and ready for a victorious uprising ... Herr Haase and his friends have on many occasions been supplied by me with material – by no means always of Russian origin – for the speeches they made in the Reichstag ... The Independent Social-Democratic Party received material assistance from us for the publishing projects on which our writers collaborated with them ... Does not Herr Haase believe that we were acting together in the common interest of the German and international revolution? I would never have brought up these reminiscences of our work together if Herr Haase had not adopted the viewpoint of the von Kühlmanns ... who actually consider our cooperation with the German USPD a crime and have expelled us from Germany for that reason. If the new German government, which calls itself Socialist and revolutionary, goes to the extent of openly denouncing us for the actions we undertook jointly with its members when they were still revolutionaries, then the political obligations which would constrain me in the case of party comrades or honest opponents lose all their force. I will now take the opportunity of informing the legal adviser to the Russian Consulate in Berlin, Reichstag Deputy Oskar Cohn, that the sum of 500,000 marks and 150,000 roubles which he received from me the night before I left Berlin, in his capacity as a member of the USPD, is not now to be paid into the account of his party. The same applies to the fund of ten million roubles which Dr. Cohn was previously authorized to draw upon for the service of the German revolution.” (Letter published in the Moscow newspaper Izvestia on December 18 or 19, 1918. Quoted in Serge, op. cit., pp. 329-330).
- 3See Eberlein’s complete speech included in the Appendix of this book.
- 4A very interesting work that addresses this issue is The German Left, by D. Authier, which contains many historical texts.
- 5Regarding the First International, see the article entitled, “Relations between Revolutionary Fractions: a Historical Review and the Current Relevance of the Problem” (Part One), by C. Michel in the journal, Spartakus, issue no. 4.
Brest-Litovsk: The facts and their meaning
A. The historical context of the treaty
The Second Soviet Congress and the peace treaty
On the very next day after the insurrection of October 25, the very first item on the agenda of the Second Russian Congress of Soviets—minus the Mensheviks and the Right Social Revolutionaries—was to vote for a resolution in favor of peace. This resolution called upon all countries to begin negotiations to bring about a “just and democratic” peace.
The Russian proletariat—as the first victorious detachment of the world working class—was immediately “obliged” (according to the Bolsheviks), due to its isolation, to scale back the civil war in order to “control the peasants”, who comprised the majority of the Russian population, and in order to “wait for the revolution to take place in other countries”!
Even though the text of the peace resolution defined its “just and democratic” peace as “… an immediate peace without annexations (i.e., without the seizure of foreign lands, without the forcible incorporation of foreign nations) and without indemnities”, and even though it included some different conditions, it nonetheless did not differ substantially from the capitalist program advocated by Wilson, the President of the United States, two months later (January 1918): see the 14 Points for peace enumerated in the president’s message to Congress. According to Point 6: “The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire.”(!) It fell far short of the proclamations of Zimmerwald and Kienthal concerning the necessity—against all pacifist illusions—of “transforming the imperialist war into a civil war”. In practice, the resolution tended to instill the idea that it would be possible for peace talks to take place between a revolutionary power and the imperialist states, and then to proceed to the establishment of diplomatic relations and economic accords. It never occurred to the framers of this resolution that the proletarian process could be affected, i.e., that it would be subject to degeneration! The extension of the revolution and revolutionary war were still “principles”, but the situation of that time supposedly caused them to be … inapplicable. Lenin would later justify this separation of “theory” from practice “in wartime conditions” … in opposition to revolutionary “phrase making”: “By revolutionary phrase making we mean the repetition of revolutionary slogans irrespective of objective circumstances at a given turn of events, in the given state of affairs obtaining at the time. The slogans are superb, alluring, intoxicating, but there are no grounds for them; such is the nature of the revolutionary phrase” (“The Revolutionary Phrase”, article published on February 21, 1918; Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 19-29). In brief, for most Bolsheviks, it was a matter of “adapting to circumstances” and, if necessary, of shelving the revolutionary principles that the imperialist carnage had just revealed to the proletarians of the entire world. For Lenin, once in power, to “swim against the current” no longer had any meaning; the pressure of the immediate situation (“realism”, as Stalin would call it) must overrule the historical imperatives of the proletariat, even at the risk of denying those imperatives.
The armistice, then the peace talks, then the treaty, then diplomatic relations, then economic accords would follow each other in rapid succession. All the more so as the peace resolution, abandoning its own “peace conditions” on the pretext of facilitating dialogue, left the door open to all kinds of opportunism: “the government declared that it would by no means consider its peace terms as an ultimatum; it consents to give consideration to any other terms that may be proposed, limiting itself to insisting on opening discussions as soon as possible with any belligerent nation…”, and the clause that demanded the abolition of all secret diplomacy and all secret treaties did not change anything in the slightest. To the contrary, it proved that this resolution did not intend to criticize “diplomacy” but only its “secret” character: in some fashion, it sought to preserve “capitalist practices” but … without their abuses! With the passage of time, this scrupulousness would rapidly disappear, since the economic accords of Rapallo between Germany and Russia were kept secret by the Bolsheviks, and that was in 1922!
It must be stressed at this point that while the social democratic tasks of the Bolsheviks which had been fully enunciated even before the insurrection of October soon became active factors in the degeneration of the proletarian process, the “capitulation” of the Soviet government to foreign imperialism and the domestic demands of the peasantry was above all the result of an unprecedented circumstance: that of the isolation of the first proletarian power. Thus, Lenin’s arguments were based on “awaiting” the outbreak of revolution in Germany and defined a “tactical” position that, in that era, would be debated within the Party until April 1918 (the date of the formation of the fraction of the left communists with the publication of the first issue of their journal, The Communist). This is true even though Lenin’s tactics were in part based on profoundly mistaken economic and political ideas (as expressed by the word, “awaiting”) which could only lead to State Capitalism and even if the critiques of the left opposition were at that time the only consistent revolutionary positions after Zimmerwald and Kienthal. To the contrary, today, after fifty years of counterrevolution, practice has perfectly outlined the class frontiers: the peace “tactic” pursued to the detriment of the extension of the revolution can only cause the degeneration of the proletarian process.
The crisis of the imperialist states
At the end of 1917, the imperialist states that had been most deeply involved in the war began to exhaust all their resources. The war was continued at the price of hunger (particularly in the Central Empires, where civilian consumption had declined by 50%, although the allies were not spared, either: thus, in France, cultivated acreage declined by 35%) and lead for the soldiers who refused to fight or who disobeyed orders to advance (hundreds of summary executions took place in Italy and France in order to quell the revolt by means of fear. General Pétain especially distinguished himself in this regard). In this connection, after slaughters like Verdun, the reserves of manpower qualified to serve as cannon fodder precipitously declined in every belligerent country. The end of the war could not be delayed for much longer. It was then that the ray of light from the proletarian revolution in Russia broke through and made Capital tremble, especially Anglo-German-French capital, given the colossal investments these countries possessed in that part of the world. “On the eve of the revolution, the Petrograd banks could marshal a capital of some 8,500 million roubles. The share of this belonging to foreign sources was as follows: French banks, 55%; English banks, 10%; German banks, 35%.... the war only intensified Russia’s dependence on the allied imperialisms, from whom a further 7,500 million roubles (over 20,000 million francs at the current rate) were borrowed in the course of the hostilities” (Serge, op. cit., pp. 143-144). Then, the Bolshevik peace offer, sanctioned, as we have seen, by the Second Congress of Soviets, would radically alter, either to the benefit or the disadvantage of the two military coalitions, all their military and strategic plans:
The “Allies” sought to use every means at their disposal to ensure that operations on the Russian front should continue in order to hold the western front until the American forces, which had just entered the war in 1917, should be ready for battle. It was for this purpose that, just before the February revolution, their representatives in Russia (for example, the British ambassador, Buchanan) attempted to foment a palace coup by the big bourgeoisie and the military high command against the Czar, Nicholas II, who constituted an obstacle to the continuation of the war. Likewise, it was as a result of their urgent appeals that Kerensky launched an offensive in July 1918 that led to humiliating defeats and a mass revolt that was drowned in blood.
The central empires, although they feared proletarian propaganda and did everything they could to win territory, nonetheless viewed the armistice favorably since the latter would allow them, prior to full American deployment, to transfer several armies from the Russian front to the western front in order to concentrate their forces for a crushing blow against the Anglo-French positions. In this sense, “they closed their eyes” and even “favored” the return of the Russian internationalist exiles whom they knew to be supporters of peace. Thus, the famous episode of the “sealed train car”1 in which Lenin crossed the German lines to return to Russia, would add fuel to the fire of the “allied” theory of the “Bolshevik German agents”!
The need for revolutionary war
Contrary to the peace proposal, the class problem for the Russian revolution was to spread itself as quickly as possible and not to wait. To spread in order to support the proletarian uprisings throughout Europe, a policy that was favored in this respect by the deepening of the crisis on the economic and political levels whose first consequences had been—together with the mutinies at the front—the great strike waves (especially in metallurgy) of 1917 in France, England and Germany. To spread without playing the game of either of the imperialist coalitions. It is therefore obvious that—even on the strictly military plane—the armistice of December 17, then the peace talks, and then the signing of the peace treaty in March 1918 between Germany and the Russian Soviets, played the game of the central empires, as is demonstrated by the account provided above. This is true despite the fraternization that took place between Russian and German soldiers, which had no exemplary effect—and could not possibly had any such effect—on the other fronts because the identification of the “Bolsheviks as German agents” had already been propagated to some extent because of the return of the Reich battalions to the Western Front, the resumption of German offensive operations there and, therefore, new suffering for the soldiers of western Europe. Trotsky showed that he was aware of the mistake that had dragged the Bolsheviks to making peace with Germany when he wrote: “And now the Bolsheviki break up the “democratic” Constituent Assembly in order to make a servile peace with the Hohenzollerns at a time when Belgium and the north of France are occupied by German troops. It was a matter of course that the Entente bourgeoisie would succeed in sowing much discord in the rank and file of workmen. And that would consequently facilitate the military intervention of the Entente against us” (L. Trotsky, Lenin, Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1925. An English translation is also available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/lenin/index.htm).
It is easy to hurl the accusation that those who advocated the war position favored the “Allies” and therefore to say that this, in itself, is enough to prove that they pursued the policy of the Russian bourgeoisie. The Left Social Revolutionaries did indeed perform precisely according to this scenario when they demanded a nationalist war against Germany; after the signing of the peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk, they organized an attack against Count Mirbach, the German Ambassador, and led an uprising against the Bolsheviks, who liquidated them (July 1918) just as they had disarmed and massacred (long before Kronstadt) the anarchists (May 1918).
These events and their consequences (the assassination attempt carried out by Fanny Kaplan, a member of a terrorist group of the Right Social Revolutionaries, against Lenin in August 1918) resulted in the deviation of the Russian proletarian process onto false paths: the rule of the Cheka (political police) over public life to the point of establishing a regime of Terror of the Bolshevik Party that had nothing to do with the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the Marxist sense of the term.
This is why it is necessary to clearly demarcate the concept of revolutionary war in such a way as to completely capture its meaning. The left communists never considered fighting a war “with Allied support” (accepting their help or following their orders with regard to battle plans) but instead, to the contrary, expected to deal with the Allies the same way they would deal with the central imperial powers or with any other imperialist states. This concept stands out all the more starkly when one considers that Lenin and Trotsky never addressed the issue of revolutionary war except in the framework of reliance on one of the imperialist factions. During the peace negotiations, Trotsky broached such matters with the American Raymond Robins and the French representative Jacques Sadoul; he formally requested American support while Noulens (the French Ambassador), solicited by Sadoul, telephoned Trotsky: “In your resistance to Germany you may count on military and financial support from France” (quoted by Victor Serge, op. cit., p. 162). As for Lenin, when the negotiations were suspended in February 1918, he issued his famous message to the Bolshevik Central Committee, which said: “Please include my vote in favour of accepting potatoes and arms from the bandits of Anglo-French imperialism.” Another argument employed by Lenin and Trotsky was their declaration that there was no army to defend the “proletarian state”: the degeneration of the Russian proletarian process was to produce a real “state army” with the formation of the “Red” army, commanded by Trotsky and composed of peasants and petty bourgeois, in which the proletariat was diluted and subject to new noncommissioned officers or to “converted” Czarist generals!
To the contrary, the revolutionary war to defend the proletarian process and “its dictatorship” (rather than the Russian state or Russian territories!) and to spread the revolution, would have required:
• that the dictatorship be based on armed detachments of the class conscious proletariat of Petrograd and Moscow, that is, on militiamen and not on noncommissioned officers!
• an immediate struggle against all imperialist states, both the “allies” and the “central powers”, despite the predominance of the peasantry; under the mantle of an apparent “neutrality”, the peasants had for the most part revealed that they were hostile towards the Soviets; proof of this may be gathered from all the “liberated” nations (Ukraine, etc.) where they formed the basis of the counterrevolutionary organizations and military forces just as they did in the zone of Soviet power, where they were refusing to consent to the requisitions and were massacring the workers sent to look for food and explain revolutionary policy! This struggle was obviously necessary since, on the one hand, the Germans used the opportunity of the negotiations to continue their offensive to seize as much territory as possible and, on the other hand, because the “allies” began to plot against the Soviets from the very moment when it became apparent that the separate peace with Germany would be a long one.
• military, political and economic resistance in every possible way until the outbreak of insurrectional class struggles in one or several European countries and until, eventually, the conjunction with the armed detachments of a victorious German proletariat, thus actively breaking with the class collaborationism of the social democracy.
To prevent the continuation of the imperialist war, there was only one solution: its transformation into a civil war on a world scale and the destruction of the capitalist state as a first priority for putting and end to the relations of capitalist production and to establish a real socialist period of transition. The condition of economic and political crisis, the mutinies, and the strikes of January 1918 in Germany, all prefigured the great uprisings of November 1918 in that same country. Perhaps the situation would have matured more rapidly if the workers of Western Europe, instead of hearing the “inflammatory speeches” of Trotsky in the little city of Brest, had seen proletarian internationalism in action? Lenin claimed that revolutionary war would have led to nothing but a massacre and submitted the example of the Paris Commune, and said that such a massacre would have had the effect of frightening the other proletariats and completely demobilizing them. History is not made of “ifs” or “maybes”, but it must be stressed that, if, on the one hand, the workers of Europe had continued to support the imperialist massacre for almost another year, on the other hand the ideological mystification that was the result of the preservation of power at any price and the establishment of State Capitalism, that is, the theme of the “fatherland of socialism”, had led to anti-proletarian carnage whose principle consequence was the prevention, for more than fifty years, of any attempts to achieve the international unity of the most radical workers struggles.
The last argument used to justify the idea of a truce, regarding the lack of military preparation, does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny when one takes into account, on the one hand, the revolutionary enthusiasm that erased the power of Kerensky in Petrograd and Moscow, the stavka (the general staff headquarters) in Mohilev, and the Cossacks of the Don and the Kuban trained by Kaledin and Kornilov, and when one envisions, on the other hand, the technical material which the proletariat would have had at its disposal if the guerrillas had immediately replaced the “regular” army which, for its part, was essentially preoccupied with getting out of the way of the German advance in anticipation of the outcome of the talks at Brest-Litovsk. In the absence of any perspective of a “revolutionary war”, this attitude of defeatism in the framework of an army that had been mobilized for three years “for the imperialist war” (which had not been destroyed or replaced in October by proletarian militias under the direct control of the Soviet power! It would simply get a “facelift” from Trotsky under the mystifying title of “Red” army when it became a matter of making the defense of the interests of the Russian state “pass for” a contribution to the extension of the revolution) frequently proceeded, despite the collaboration with Germany which was favored by one part of the peasantry, from a class reflection among the worker-soldiers, since they acquired no more benefits serving under Lenin than under Kerensky as cannon fodder for the defense of an embryonic State Capitalist territory, economy or state. If, to the contrary, the process of October had been prolonged by the dispatch of militias for the sole purpose of defending the “revolutionary zone of Soviet power”, it is certain that defeatism would not have consisted in “running away” but in “reinforcing” the armed detachments of the proletariat to contribute to, by way of mobilization against all imperialist powers, the spread of the revolution.
The policy of negotiations
Instead of opting for revolutionary war, the Soviet government, under the influence of the Bolshevik majority that supported Lenin, became mired in treaties with Germany. Thus, on November 18 the proletarian delegation (Joffe, Kamenev, Mstislavski, Sokolnikov and Bitzenko) left for the fortress of Brest-Litovsk: less than one month after the overthrow of Kerensky! It was met by high dignitaries: Prince Leopold of Bavaria and General Hoffman presided over the representatives of the Central Empires. “Naively”, Kamenev read the preliminary messages directed at the proletariat of all countries. Standing on terrain with which they were totally familiar after years of “compromises” in order to confer “legitimacy” upon the various imperialist pillage operations (the role of diplomacy), the Austro-Germans waited impassively for the Bolsheviks to finish their “noble internationalist” speeches. Faced with a complete absence of concrete proposals on the part of the Bolsheviks regarding the content of the treaty, the Austro-German delegation put its cards on the table by calling for the Bolshevik’s immediate proposals regarding the specific terms of an armistice. Apart from the fact that the appeals of the Bolsheviks were, and could not possible have been anything but, castles in the air (one does not call upon the proletariat to destroy world capital while sitting at the same table with one of world capital’s factions … nor does one invite the other capitalist factions to join it at the same table, that is, in anticipation that Brest-Litovsk would be a Versailles one year in advance!), the Bolshevik delegates were not prepared on such short notice for stating any specific armistice terms and had to improvise a series of terms based on empirical exigencies: in particular, a six-month armistice, fraternization of the soldiers and a commitment on the part of the Austro-Germans not to transport their troops to the western front. In response to these proposals, the representatives of the Central Empires offered an armistice of fourteen days: the negotiations were then deadlocked and the talks were suspended. Finally, the armistice was signed on December 2, 1917, and was to be in effect for a period of 28 days; at the end of that period, the parties could negotiate terms for its extension. Its terms were ideal as far as the Germans were concerned, since one part of the fraternization took the form of “organized contacts”, that is, meetings of groups of soldiers under the control of the military hierarchy and, in addition and most importantly, its commitment not to transfer troops to the western front was thrown into the wastebasket immediately after the armistice was signed. Having been apprised of the weakness of the Soviet regime as a result of the ad-hoc improvisations of its representatives, the Germans began a massive transfer of their battalions towards the west (which, from the military perspective, would allow them to resume the offensive against the Anglo-French, for the purpose of spearheading the breakout that would put an end to the “trench warfare” that had lasted since 1915: the carnage would be unleashed on an even larger scale!)2 and made preparations to continue their advance into Russia thanks to their material superiority, the support of national minorities like the Ukrainians under Petliura, the disintegration of the Russian army and the absence of any proletarian militias organized by the Soviets for revolutionary war. One week later, the peace talks began. This was December 9; the very same day witnessed the implementation of the Decree that created the “Russian Cheka to fight against sabotage and counterrevolution” (Decree of December 7, published by Izvestia on December 10, 1917)! The Bolshevik delegation of the Soviets was still led by Joffe and Kamenev, while that of the Central Empires now included the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister (Count Czernin) and his German counterpart (Baron von Kuhlmann). The presence of these individuals at the peace talks proved that the imperialists of the Central Powers were putting all the weight of their diplomacy into play in order to completely achieve their military and political objectives in the context of the separate peace with Russia by preserving all the territories that had been acquired by force at Russia’s expense. Why? Because they were facing collapse and thus defeat at the hands of the Allies. For Austria, particularly drained and exhausted, had threatened to sign a separate peace on its own, even with the Allies. In Germany, there had been mutinies in the navy during the summer of 1917. Besides, as we pointed out above, hunger was devastating the populations on the home fronts of both countries. This alone allows us to ascertain, while the imperialist powers were walking a tightrope and were playing a very dangerous game that could backfire against them, the degree to which the pusillanimity of the Bolshevik majority, by clinging to the path of negotiations, tied around the neck of the proletarian process the rope of its future gallows. The condition calling for recognition of “the right of national self-determination” also provided the Central Powers with the main pivot of its first peace terms. Article 2 of the Central Powers’ proposed peace terms reads as follows: “The Russian Government having recognized, in conformity with its principles, the right of all peoples who form part of the Russian state, without exception to self-determination, including the right of total secession, takes account of the decisions expressing the will of the peoples of Poland, Lithuania, Courland, part of Estonia and Finland, which have resolved to secede from the Russian state and constitute themselves as completely independent states.” Caught in the meshes of the net of the advocacy of this principle (self-determination) as a “proletarian” principle, the Bolshevik delegates restricted themselves to requesting that the Germans and Austrians evacuate these countries so that this self-determination could be “freely” expressed; they were gambling, above all, on the participation of the other imperialist governments in the talks in order to rein in the Austro-German appetites. Faced with the open hostility of the Allies, the Executive Committee of the Soviets broadcast an appeal to the workers of the Allied nations: “Your governments have still done nothing to make peace; they have not even published the aims for which they are making war. Demand their immediate participation in the Brest-Litovsk talks”. Let us compare, once again, the content of this appeal with the most advanced thesis that emerged from Zimmerwald: “turn the imperialist war into a civil war”! Instead of continuing to rely on the class struggle, the Bolsheviks made other proposals with the intention of applying pressure on the other capitalist camp by all possible means: proposals to subject the negotiations to an “international control commission” or transferring the peace talks to Stockholm. This reflected the principle of a policy of exploiting the divisions between the capitalists and the abandonment of the principled position of an equal and unwavering hatred for the capitalist world as a whole. This would lead the Bolsheviks to the Treaty of Rapallo. Lenin justified this policy in his “Theses on the Question of the Immediate Conclusion of a Separate and Annexationist Peace”: “In concluding a separate peace we free ourselves as much as is possible at the present moment from both hostile imperialist groups, we take advantage of their mutual enmity and warfare which hamper concerted action on their part against us, and for a certain period have our hands free to advance and to consolidate the socialist revolution”. After the first session was suspended, however, one might have thought that the Bolsheviks would break with this false policy and instead base their efforts on the increasing domestic difficulties of the Central Empires for the purpose of conducting revolutionary war.
The presence of Trotsky
Such a conclusion is completely unwarranted. To the contrary, the addition of Trotsky (Peoples Commissar for Foreign Affairs) to the Soviet delegation at the next session of the negotiations (December 27), merely confirmed the suspicions of the imperialists regarding how important the signing of the Treaty was to the Bolsheviks and revealed the fragility of their power. Immediately, the debates were most embittered with regard to the question of the territories each party was to evacuate. Neither side was willing to compromise. This jousting was interrupted momentarily by the repeated dialectical acrobatics with which Trotsky taunted his interlocutors; in response, the Germans caused some units of their military to engage in grenade practice every morning a few hundred yards from the residence of the Russian delegates! It was the reign of the Spectacle: planning to direct their appeals to the “peoples” over the heads of the imperialist plenipotentiaries, the Bolsheviks demanded the publication of the stenographic record of the talks; the diplomats of the Central Powers tried to redact it; in fact, only specialists would have been interested in dissecting the speeches and arguments of either side. But after the “circus” came to an end, it was necessary to cut to the chase: the Germans declared on January 5, 1918 that the Russians had to announce that they accept or that they reject the German terms. The negotiations were once again suspended.
The domestic situation of the Central Empires was deteriorating. Economic difficulties triggered a social explosion: an enormous strike movement affected Austria and Germany, Soviets were formed in the major urban centers (Berlin, Vienna) and factories producing war materiel were paralyzed. These events, which took place in mid-January, marked a considerable turning point with respect to the perspective of breaking the isolation of the Russian Soviets and extending the revolution if the path of revolutionary war had been followed instead of the policy of a separate peace. For an idea of the gravity of the difficulties encountered within the Central Empires, we need only refer to the Memoires of Count Czernin (Foreign Minister of Austria) who recounted a conversation he had during the war with Baron Von Kuhlmann: “Kuhlmann: The Russians have no choice: they cannot have their cake and eat it too. Czernin: Just like us”. With regard to the seriousness of the domestic situation, the Austrians threatened to leave the Germans to their own devices: “We are almost at the point of catastrophe in the food supply”, Czernin declared. “If supplies are not sent, we shall have riots on our hands next week”. However, far from taking advantage of the situation that the Pravda of January 18 had highlighted in these terms: “It has happened! The head of German imperialism is on the chopping block! The mailed fist of the proletarian revolution is raised! Revolution in Germany! A soviet in Berlin!”, the Bolsheviks actually returned to the negotiating table at Brest on the same day! For the press of the Entente it was therefore a simple matter to portray to Bolsheviks as agents in the pay of Germany and to say that the negotiations, because of their constant suspensions and delays, were nothing but a comedy designed to keep up appearances; Trotsky himself expressed it this way in his book, Lenin  (Chapter 3): “And now the Bolsheviki break up the “democratic” Constituent Assembly in order to make a servile peace with the Hohenzollerns at a time when Belgium and the north of France are occupied by German troops. It was a matter of course that the Entente bourgeoisie would succeed in sowing much discord in the rank and file of workmen. And that would consequently facilitate the military intervention of the Entente against us”. For it was entirely clear that the French, English and Italian workers, who had endured, after more than two years of trench warfare, a new German offensive made possible by the transfer of troops from the Russian to the western front, were more likely to believe the imperialist propaganda about German-Soviet collusion than they were to heed the words of Karl Liebknecht and the revolutionaries praising the example of the October Revolution and proclaiming that “the enemy is at home”. Rosa Luxemburg, in the “Spartacus Letter” entitled, “Historic Responsibility” (January 1918) perfectly captured these first counterrevolutionary implications of the peace talks: “The first result of the cease-fire will only be that German troops will be transferred from the east to the west. In reality this is already taking place. Trotsky and company have been able to give themselves and the Soviets the satisfaction of having sought to obtain as one of the terms of the armistice the commitment not to transfer troops, so as not to stab the Western powers in the back. With regard to this declaration, the German military can laugh behind the Soviets’ backs, knowing quite well what it means. Because hundreds of thousands of German troops, without waiting for the armistice to be signed, have been transported from Russia to Italy and Flanders. The last bloody offensives of the Germans around Cambrai and, in the south, the new ‘shattering successes’ in Italy, are already the effects of the Bolshevik revolution of November in Petrograd.”
“Still enraged by the scenes of fraternization with the Russian revolutionary soldiers, by the group photographs, by the songs and the shouts of ‘long live the International’, the German ‘comrades’ are now sent, fully equipped, into the line of fire in heroic mass assaults to deal the most crushing blows against the French, English and Italian proletarians. Thanks to massive reinforcements of German cannon fodder, the massacre will engulf the entire western and southern front with a redoubled force. There can be no denying that this will compel France, England and the United States to ever more desperate efforts. Thus, the very first effects of the Russian armistice and its immediate consequence, the separate peace in the East, will not be to hasten the day of a general peace treaty, but 1): the prolongation of the massacre of the peoples and the monstrous aggravation of its bloody character, demanding from both sides sacrifices compared to which those seen before undoubtedly pale in comparison; 2) an enormous consolidation of Germany’s military position and, thus, its annexationist plans, and its most audacious appetites”.
With the resumption of negotiations, the Bolsheviks drained the cup to the dregs, forced to listen to counterrevolutionary declarations of a “people that was just now exercising its right of national self-determination”: for the envoys of the “Ukrainian Republic” (Rada) now joined the negotiations, to the great satisfaction of the Central Powers, and these envoys did not miss a chance to make the most anti-communist speeches. The speeches made by Radek, as the delegate of the Polish social democrats, denouncing the regime installed in Poland under German occupation, were under the circumstances small consolation when compared with the disastrous consequences of the supposedly progressive slogan of the “right of national self-determination”.
Exasperated by the domestic difficulties that continued to afflict both Austria-Hungary and Germany, and under pressure from Ludendorff, who was persuaded that the Bolsheviks must be quickly defeated on the military terrain, in order to thus bring about the establishment of a new government in Russia, Wilhelm II and his General Staff decided, through Kuhlmann, to present its peace terms in the form of an ultimatum. Faced with this demand, after another speech, Trotsky broke off the talks without accepting the ultimatum, not in order to prepare for revolutionary war, but to make it understood in the most utopian way possible that Russia was ready to unilaterally … make peace! He declared: “we are demobilising our army. We refuse to sign a peace based on annexations. We declare that the state of war between the Central Empires and Russia is at an end”, after having said that Russia would devote itself from then on to socialist construction: “Awaiting the hour, which we believe to be close, when the toiling classes of all countries take power, as the working people of Russia have taken it…. Our peasant-soldier is returning to his labours to till in peace, from this spring onwards, the land which the Russian Revolution has taken from the hands of the landlords and given to the toilers. Our worker-soldier must return to his factory, there to produce, not engines of destruction but tools of creation, and to build, side by side with the peasant, the new socialist economy”.
These ingenuous assertions about “the construction of socialism in one country” as the only response to their ultimatum, led the German imperialists to unleash a brutal assault on Russia eight days after the suspension of the negotiations (early February 1918), rendering the armistice clause null and void that required the aggressor to notify the other party a week in advance when the resumption of military hostilities was planned.
A treaty against the spread of the revolution
The Bolsheviks, having bet everything on the success of their policy in favor of peace negotiations, were faced with a German advance that was immensely successful at first: the German troops traveled on the trains and met no resistance. Ukraine was invaded; the Germans advanced between two and three hundred kilometers within one week; the city of Pskov, 257 kilometers from Petrograd, was taken. But faced with the difficulties of the terrain (the immensity of Russia), it was beyond the capabilities of the German forces at that time to totally destroy the Soviet power, all the more so as workers resistance was gradually emerging and showing its effectiveness! On February 21, the “socialist fatherland” was declared to be “in danger”. While the peasants welcomed the German imperialists as liberators, the workers mobilized without any hesitation: “The passivity of the peasant soldiery contrasted with the enthusiasm of the workers, who by entire factories, along with their wives and older children (just as good for the fighting, they thought) poured along to Smolny to be armed” (See Victor Serge, op. cit., p. 164). The war of “worker guerrillas” worked wonders: destruction of railways, formation of companies behind enemy lines to harass the Germans, etc. It is easy to imagine the military effectiveness (not to speak of its political impact) that a revolutionary war that had been prepared as soon as the Germans issued their threats would have had rather than illusions nourished with the armistice and talks. And when one takes into account the fact that at the same time as the German were advancing in the North, in the South the red guards (under the command of Antonov-Ovseenko) were winning victories over the Whites and that the Soviet units in Romania had defeated the armies of that country that was allied with the Central Empire (and that they successfully defended, in particular, the city of Odessa), this can only add further support to the policy that should have been followed!
Lenin and Trotsky did consider resuming the war but on the condition that they received the support … of the armies of the Entente. In a way, this would have constituted a continuation, after the failure of the policy of a separate peace, of the military alliance concluded by the Czar prior to October with the imperialist powers, France and England, which had just been reinforced by the United States. At first glance, these powers appeared to be fierce enemies of the soviets due to the military results of the armistice and the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, the cancellation of the Czarist regime’s debts and the confiscation of their capital investments by the State Bank (Decree of the Peoples Commissars of January 26, 1918), and their obsession with the possibility of an international proletarian revolution; actually, however, they entertained the idea of providing support to the Bolsheviks in consideration of the Entente’s strategic interests and the imperatives of the imperialist war in order to defeat the Central Powers, at the risk of having to wage war against the Bolsheviks immediately after the defeat of the Central Powers (the Japanese had a plan to invade Siberia but this plan met with the opposition of the United States, which had a very jaundiced view of such a Japanese conquest of part of the far east). Thus, by way of J. Sadoul (a French journalist and author of Notes on the Bolshevik Revolution, published by Maspéro), ambassador Noulens promised French aid. And this also explains why Trotsky requested American support, and why Lenin sent the message (quoted above) to the Bolshevik Central Committee requesting that it vote in favor of accepting aid from the “bandits of Anglo-French imperialism”! Framing his argument in the form of a parable and giving it a dialectical appearance, he tried to justify this policy of seeking aid from the imperialists in an article entitled, “The Itch”, which appeared in the February 22, 1918 issue of Pravda: “Does not the appraisal whether I act well or badly in acquiring weapons from a robber depend on the end and object of these weapons? On their use for a war that is base and dishonourable or for one that is just and honourable? Ugh! The itch is a nasty disease. And hard is the occupation of a man who has to give a steam bath to those infected with it ....” (Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 43-47). This article’s postscript is quite revealing of Lenin’s identification of the process of the bourgeois revolution with that of the proletarian revolution, contrary to the position of the left communists whom he called scabrous: “The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans ....”
Finally, it was a new ultimatum from the Germans which considerably ratcheted up the stringency of their peace terms and which gave Lenin the majority in the Central Committee that he needed to ratify capitulation to the German ultimatum, but not before he threatened to immediately resign from the Government and from the Central Committee if his proposal was not approved. Trotsky abstained from the vote, but also abandoned the idea of waging a revolutionary war. At the beginning of March, the Bolshevik delegation (Sokolnikov, Petrovski, Chicherin, Karajan, Joffe….) left for Brest-Litovsk: the Peace Treaty was signed on March 3. Although they refused to engage in any further discussions, as expressed by Sokolnikov, who declared that “We refuse to engage in any discussion, as it is useless”, the Bolsheviks merely had to accept the final result of all their evasiveness and ambiguities and, above all, of the errors imposed on them by Lenin’s policy that was supported by the majority!
The final results of the treaty may be summarized as follows:
Enormous losses of territories that had been under the influence of the revolutionary process since October: the Baltic part of Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Finland…;
The resumption of commercial and diplomatic relations between Russia and Germany and other capitalist countries;
And, above all, the erosion of the political credit of the Russian revolution in the eyes of the world proletariat due to what Rosa Luxemburg called “the grotesque coupling of Hindenburg-Lenin”!
As for the economic consequences of the Treaty, Victor Serge quotes the figures supplied by Radek, who delivered the keynote address at the First Russian Congress of Economic Councils (May 26-June 4): the Soviet power lost 40% of its industrial proletariat since the Austro-Germans occupied the Donets Basin, 90% of its sugar industry, 65-70% of its metal industry, 55% of its wheat (and therefore most of its exportable wheat crop). Russian dependence on the world market, which had already been significant, only became greater.
B. The different positions within the Bolshevik Party
Subsequent to the vote by the Second Congress of Soviets in favor of peace, various tendencies came into conflict within the Bolshevik Party—and more particularly within the Central Committee of the Party—over the question of the correctness of this orientation. Contrary to what he had written in April 1917 (“The class-conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defensism, 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”), Lenin strenuously defended the peace policy by alternately emphasizing at one time or another the exhaustion of the country, then the defeatism of the peasants, then the lack of a real army, then the need for consolidating the economic foundations of the regime, and finally, the absence of a revolutionary movement in Europe. He said: “The peace that has been offered us is disgraceful, but if we turn it down we shall be swept out of power and peace will be made by another government.” The supporters of the left opposition, for their part, had been calling for the cessation of the peace talks and the termination of all diplomatic and economic relations with the capitalist States since December 1917. They began, then, to forthrightly stress the dangers of opportunism and corruption that the peace policy posed for the Soviet power. Their spokespersons insisted that revolutionary war was the only way: thus Osinski said, “I am for revolutionary war … just as Lenin was in April of 1917!” Trotsky, for his part, although he thought that revolutionary war was impossible for the same reasons advanced by Lenin, wanted to make it appear that the capitulation was not freely consented to by the Soviets but imposed on them by force by the Germans. This was why he wanted the negotiations to drag on forever, and, as a delegate at Brest-Litovsk, he did everything he could to achieve this goal. In addition, he justified his tactic with reference to the possibility that such a delay might allow time for the European insurrection to break out before the signing of the peace treaty. This position, called “neither war nor peace”, seemed to be an intermediate position, but in fact it was situated on the same basic terrain of reasoning as Lenin’s position (furthermore, it was Trotsky’s vote that would finally give Lenin the majority on the Central Committee). The goal was the same: peace imposed on all, only the means were different. For Trotsky, the capitulation must be carried out “elegantly”, as far as this is possible “with a knife at your throat”, while for Lenin it was not necessary to use subterfuge to achieve the same results. Underestimating the resources of the Central Empires and their vital and crucial economic need to “freeze” the eastern front, Trotsky’s tactic proved to be inconsistent. His tactic dangerously exposed the Soviet power (Lenin accused him of having wasted time and for having been the cause of the German advance) even while rejecting the prospect of revolutionary war and, therefore, refusing to carry out intensive preparations for that war.
These three positions clashed most visibly in early January 1918, on the eve of the Third Congress of Soviets, on the occasion of a meeting of high-level party members in Petrograd. Lenin was then in the minority (15 votes), Trotsky had 16 votes and the left opposition had 32 votes. In the other proletarian institutions (soviets, factory committees….), in all the regions of Russia and even in February (see the proclamation of the Central Committee on this question), it was the same, that is, the left had the majority! This clearly displays the class instinct that inspired the Soviets and the Party despite the Decree of the Second Congress and the position taken by Lenin, whose influence in the Russian movement made it hard to oppose his views. The left opposition and its position in favor of revolutionary war were most popular, furthermore, in Petrograd, Moscow and the Urals, that is, in the great industrial centers: which indicated the unambiguous divide that separated the reactions of the proletariat from those of the masses of peasants.
We shall now subject these three positions to a more detailed examination.
For the reasons we mentioned above, Lenin sought to provide the revolution with a breathing space, a truce, some time. Besides, however, his tactical considerations (military, for example), which were debatable, he thought in terms of a proletarian power that was politically isolated, at the threshold of the first stage of socialist production, while awaiting the outbreak of the world revolution; thus, at the very roots of his position lay social democratic features that gravely encumbered all the justifications he was capable of offering (these features would be fully revealed by the ongoing experience of the real movement).
So, first of all, he appealed to the Russian proletariat to approve of the peace in order to “organize” the country, that is, to a certain extent he advocated a simple national reconstruction to develop capitalism, which had until then been enmeshed in the nets of feudalism or of the Asiatic mode of production. In order to accomplish this, he claimed that State Capitalism represented, at the economic level, “a step forward” towards socialism and that, far from fearing it or fighting against it, it had to be rigorously pursued by imitating … Germany! The basis for his argument came from the erroneous analysis of imperialism that he had for the most part derived from the book, Finance Capital, by the Independent Social Democrat R. Hilferding and which Lenin further embellished in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. This analysis made the concentration of capital and the formation of monopolies “the threshold of socialism”: on the economic plane, there is thus no radical rupture between capitalism and communism; there is simply a more advanced development of the productive forces on the basis of the same fundamental relations of production, wage labor and the commodity; the only “change” is the establishment of “workers control” (in plain words, the implementation of a kind of “self-exploitation” of the working class!) and the gradual replacement of monopolies by the state. All of this appears quite clearly after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in Lenin’s texts, “The Immediate Tasks of Soviet Government” (April 1918) and “‘Left Wing’ Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality” (May 1918), as well as in his declarations at the meeting of the Central Executive Committee of Russia (April 29, 1918; see Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pp. 279-313): “If the petty bourgeois were subordinated to other class elements, subordinated to state capitalism, the class-conscious worker would be bound to greet that with open arms, for state capitalism under Kerensky’s democracy would have been a step towards socialism, and under the Soviet government it would be three-quarters of socialism, because anyone who is the organiser of state capitalist enterprises can be made one’s helper. The Left Communists, however, adopt a different attitude, one of disdain, and when we had our first meeting with the Left Communists on April 4, which incidentally proved that this question from remote history, which had been long discussed, was already a thing of the past, I said that it was necessary, if we properly understood our tasks, to learn socialism from the organisers of the trusts.”
The left communists, represented by Osinski (see the excerpt from his text, “On the Construction of Socialism”, included in the appendix of this book), effectively criticized Lenin’s analysis of State Capitalism and its implications, the introduction of the Taylor System (e.g., piecework) and support for the “captains of industry” (the organizers of trusts) as well as, more generally, all the “specialists” (technicians, etc.).
With regard to the economic question, Lenin did not conceal his adherence to social democracy: “Recall what former socialists wrote about the future socialist revolution; it is doubtful whether it would be possible to pass to socialism without learning from the organisers of trusts, for they have been concerned with this type of production on a large scale” (ibid.). It must be pointed out that the social democratic economic vision which had been realized as a capitalist program in Germany (Bismarck), besides having been influenced by Lassalle, was based on positions held by Marx himself; mistaken positions which he had no time to correct after the Commune (his “Critique of the Gotha Program” is insufficient in this respect) and which his disciples, and first of all, Engels, had embraced by ridiculously labeling them with the name of “Marxism”! Everything that Marx had yet planned to write about Capital, and particularly on the world market (see the initial plan for his economic studies in M. Rubel, Marx, Critique du Marxisme, Payot, Paris, 1974), and the immense labor that he had planned to devote to an analysis of the state, never saw the light of day. Only Rosa Luxemburg would carry out a labor of theoretical extension which, on the basis of Marx’s method, would constitute not just a condemnation of the social democratic theories (both revisionist and “orthodox”) but also a critique and a supersession of the “old ideas” of Marx, particularly with regard to the economic roots of the crisis of capitalism, on the basis of her analysis of imperialism (see The Accumulation of Capital) and the national question.
As a result, Lenin had no fear at all of entering into economic and trade agreements with capitalist states: in his view, the Soviet power was protected by the (so-called proletarian) state monopoly over foreign trade. Nor did he have any more fear of diplomatic relations with capitalist states. To the contrary, he was in favor of anything that could contribute to “the march towards socialism”. In response to the accusations of betrayal of proletarian internationalism that were hurled at him by the leftists, he offered an example: “The workers who in the course of a strike accept conditions for a return to work which are disadvantageous to them and advantageous to the capitalists do not betray Socialism. Only those betray it who trade the assets of a worker’s party for the benefit of the capitalists, and it is only transactions like that which are in principle inadmissible” (see the summary of the “21 Theses on the Peace Treaty” in Victor Serge, op. cit., p. 155). His comparison of a struggle in the course of a strike and the struggle for socialism is utterly spurious since it proceeds from a view of the strike considered from the strictly economic perspective (it must be recalled that Lenin, in his What Is To Be Done? of 1902, said that the proletariat can only spontaneously develop a “trade unionist” consciousness and that “socialist” consciousness was introduced into its midst from the outside by revolutionaries!) and betrays a view of socialism that is conceived as a gradual process that is established within the confines of the capitalist system. For a proletarian movement in the imperialist era, no “deals” or compromises are possible since its goal is not to achieve a more or less advantageous arrangement within the system, whether by means of the strike or any other method, but to advance in the sense of the destruction of capitalism and therefore to develop communist consciousness. Today, the consequences of such compromises are not simply the preservation or the exacerbation of working conditions and wages, they also entail the consolidation of the dictatorship of capital against the communist movement, which could take the form, beyond repression, of a generalized massacre of the proletariat.
Besides his economic analysis, which would prove to be his fundamental argument and which in our time must be identified as such without any hesitation, Lenin set forth a certain number of other “tactical” arguments in order to buttress his theory of the truce. These arguments were based on the following obvious facts: after three years of imperialist war, much of the population was exhausted; after having been allocated some property (the division of the agricultural estates had figured in the program of the Bolshevik Party and had been advocated by The April Theses!), the peasants had no interest at all in proceeding any further and might oppose proletarian goals; finally, the traditional army, a legacy of the Czar and Kerensky, could not be used for the purposes of workers resistance to German imperialism and waging a revolutionary war against all the imperialist States. But what revolutionary ever denied these simple “facts” or failed to acknowledge unfavorable elements that could hinder the process of proletarian emancipation? Lenin never really rose to the level of a radical analysis of this process: thus he did not understand that the proletariat in arms (the coordination of the workers militias under the direct control of the Soviets) implied a complete break with the very concept of the army and of “democracy”. He said: “It would be an outright adventure, given the complete democratization of the army, to try to make war against the will of the majority of the soldiers.”(!) As for the attitude of the other layers of the population with regard to the proletarian revolution, that of the peasants, for example, it cannot be resolved by a capitulation of the working class so as to facilitate the incorporation of the peasantry into the working class (the seizure and distribution of the landed estates by the peasants was a petty bourgeois slogan, as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out in her text, The Russian Revolution) as a result of their incapacity for, and their opposition to, historical change. This historical change is completely bound to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in social relations, which is the only way to separate these “middle” classes from the influence of capitalism.
The most serious argument is still in fact the absence of any connection between a revolutionary war conducted by the Soviet power and subversive activity on the part of the proletarian movement in Western Europe. In the absence of the latter, the revolutionary war cannot consist of exporting communism “at gunpoint”, which, on the other hand, is just what the “Red” army tried to do in Poland (1920) under Lenin’s direction, who would at that time adopt a position completely at odds with the one he advocated at the time of Brest-Litovsk. If, however, the proletarian movement in Europe in January 1918 did not yet assume a totally revolutionary character, it was not completely absent, either: thus, as we pointed out above, major strikes broke out during that month with the formation of soviets in Germany and Austria! The abandonment of negotiations with, and armed resistance by the Soviet power against, German imperialism might have been capable of nourishing the initial impulse of a necessary linkage with the process of class struggle on a European scale. The operations of the war in the West would have been disrupted: the revolutionary war would have been imposed in all countries instead of the imperialist war. The sequence of events would highlight the profound tendencies that foreshadowed the proletarian explosion in Europe after November 1918 in Germany.
Because of the weakness or the falsehood of his arguments, Lenin’s theses would therefore be supported by a minority of the members of all proletarian organizations (Soviets, factory committees, Party…) and would remain minority positions for practically two months. Only demoralization before the German advance, peasant passivity, the illusions of propaganda that flourished during the peace talks, Trotsky’s support by means of his abstention, would finally make it possible for Lenin to obtain a majority and to impose his will on the policy of the Soviets and the Party. The confusion between “state army” and “coordination of proletarian militias”, between “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants” and “dictatorship of the proletariat”, between “State Capitalism” and “socialism”, had given rise to the policy that, following the militarization of labor in Kronstadt, would become the active factor of the counterrevolution.
Although he, too, conceived of the necessity of a truce and the impossibility of waging revolutionary war without alliances, and thus by virtue of these positions alone he stood on the same terrain as Lenin, Trotsky, who was at that time the Peoples Commissar for Foreign Affairs, sought to obtain this truce by other means. In his view, by not signing the treaty immediately and instead dragging out the talks to expose the threats and pressure tactics of German imperialism, would have the effect of proving to the European proletariat that the Soviet power did not capitulate of its own will but as a result of being forced to do so. He was especially interested in quelling the rumors regarding collaboration between Russia and Germany and responding to the imperialist propaganda of the Entente which sought to present Brest-Litovsk as a prearranged farce: it was for this reason that his conduct with regard to the question of peace was opposed to Lenin’s approach, who wanted to sign the treaty as soon as possible. Trotsky based his argument on the expectation that important movements of the working class would arise during the peace talks, which is why any prolongation of the talks was welcome. Finally, he feared that if the treaty were to be signed immediately, it would inevitably entail a split by the left and, as a result, a reinforcement of the “right wing” and opportunist elements in the Party. This fear was further reinforced by the resignation of the leading left communists from all their organizational posts.
One aspect of Trotsky’s gamble was also based on the following calculation: beyond the threats and the pressure from the Germans, he also thought, based on the concrete analysis of the situation of the Central Empires, that the German military offensive against the Soviets was not entirely guaranteed of success (e.g.: the economic and social difficulties of the two empires; the temptation felt by Austria-Hungary, which was particularly exhausted by three years of war, to end the war; the dissensions within the German leadership between Kaiser Wilhelm II and his General Staff—Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hoffmann). Trotsky even went farther in his calculation by saying: “If there were only twenty-five chances in a hundred that the Hohenzollern would not decide to fight us, or was in no position to do so, we must make the attempt, even with a certain risk, to sign the treaty.” (L. Trotsky, op. cit.). Lenin, however, could easily reply as follows: “… it is too bold. For the moment our revolution is more important than everything else; we must make it sure, cost what it may”, since Trotsky’s position was contradictory to its very foundations because of his admission of the impossibility of revolutionary war. Trotsky was in a way playing with fire; although he mocked German imperialism with his verbal intransigence, all he accomplished in the end was to demonstrate the real weakness of a Soviet power that refused to dedicate all its forces to the extension of the revolution.
The general staff prevailed upon the emperor: the German offensive took place and its advance was overwhelming. Then, after his first vote for Lenin’s proposal but before he resigned from his position as Peoples Commissar of Foreign Affairs prior to the signing of the Treaty (March 3, 1918), Trotsky suddenly reconsidered the war option but on only on the condition of support from the Entente powers (France and England). Under the same pretenses as his original peace position, the political independence of the Soviet power was tossed in the wastebasket since Trotsky thought that in order to fight against one imperialist coalition, there was no reason to hesitate to enter into an alliance with the other imperialist powers. Lenin was in complete agreement with him on this issue and the Central Committee also voted in favor of his proposal by a vote of 6 to 5. But another German ultimatum and the further unimpeded progress of Ludendorff’s troops provoked a return to the position of an immediate peace.
In a world held hostage by imperialist barbarism, the “neither war nor peace” tactic, which was based on the same fundamental logic as the peace position due to its abandonment of the idea of preparing for a real revolutionary war, could only lead Trotsky to irremediably “align himself” behind Lenin. Definitively rejecting any “bad conscience” or “Don Quijotesque” indignation with regard to the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, Trotsky therefore agreed to assume all the implications of the capitulation of the Soviet power to German imperialism, and first of all, that of putting the brakes on the world proletarian process!
Henceforth, as the Peoples Commissar for War, and then later as the Peoples Commissar for Transport, he would be, successively or simultaneously, the organizer of a so-called “red” state army, the theoretician of the substitution of the Party for the Soviets, the theoretician of the terror, the theoretician of the militarization of labor (see his book, Terrorism and Communism), and the executioner of the proletariat (the repression of Kronstadt). A fine resume for any Jacobin! After his political defeat at the hands of Stalin in the struggle for the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, he continued to defend his theory of the “USSR” while in exile and thus made his followers in the Fourth International, with the same pretenses as the Kremlin bureaucracy, into the gravediggers of the international perspectives of the proletariat.
The following passage from Terrorism and Communism illustrates the perfect agreement between Trotsky and Lenin with regard to the economic vision of socialism. This explains the relative ease with which Trotsky accepted all the consequences of the peace position and why he so passionately defended the latter.
“Consequently, wages, in the form both of money and of goods, must be brought into the closest possible touch with the productivity of individual labor. Under capitalism, the system of piece-work and of grading, the application of the Taylor system, etc., have as their object to increase the exploitation of the workers by the squeezing-out of surplus value. Under Socialist production, piece-work, bonuses, etc., have as their problem to increase the volume of social product, and consequently to raise the general well-being. Those workers who do more for the general interest than others receive the right to a greater quantity of the social product than the lazy, the careless, and the disorganizers.” (L. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, Chapter 8: “Problems of the Organization of Labor”; online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/terrcomm/index.htm).
The position of the left
After January 1918, the criticisms of the left with respect to the perspectives on the signing of a peace treaty with the Central Empires began to plunge the Bolshevik Party into turmoil. While the armistice and the peace talks at the fortress of Brest-Litovsk had been accepted by most militants, this was only because they thought these measures were necessary to gain time solely for military purposes. Furthermore, since December 1917, when the negotiations began, measures had been taken within the Party to incite the Soviet power to make rapid preparations for waging revolutionary war. Nonetheless, it must also be stressed that even then there were strong reservations about sitting at the same table with the representatives of capital and holding discussions with them. When it became clear that Lenin thought, beyond the question of strictly military tactics (the measures that had been approved with regard to preparations for revolutionary war had not been implemented or had been gradually scaled back!), that the Soviet power had to accept the peace dictated by Germany, a veritable storm of protest arose. For the left, it was not a question of obtaining a breathing space at the price of a series of economic and political compromises that the signing of the peace treaty would inaugurate. The leftists issued a series of declarations to the Central Committee of the RSDLP through the institutions in the Party in which they constituted the majority; the one that follows is a typical example:
“Petrograd, January 15, 1918. The Executive Commission, in full agreement with the Petersburg Committee resolutions on the policy towards a peace, makes this statement. The political line now pursued by the CC and directed, judging by the resolution from the Bolshevik group in the Congress, at the conclusion of a so-called ‘shameful peace’, which means at this moment the abdication of our positions in full view of the coming international revolution and the sure death of our Party as the vanguard of the revolution. Since it considers that such a CC policy is in contradiction to the decisions and resolutions of the April Conference and the Sixth Party Congress, the Executive Commission makes a very strong protest on behalf of the Petersburg organisation both against the fundamental direction, already determined in its general features, and against the policy of silence and reserve now being practised in our foreign policy affairs, even in relation to the responsible bodies of the largest Party organizations.
“We have very good grounds for asserting that to sign a ‘shameful peace’ would be in clear contradiction to the opinion of the majority of the Party. This was graphically shown by the January 8 meeting where a huge majority expressed itself against comrade Lenin’s point of view and also by the fact that the most influential organisations in our Party—the Petersburg and Moscow regions—stated that they were definitely against an annexationist peace with Germany. If the peace policy is continued in the present spirit, reflected especially characteristically in the Congress resolution, it threatens to split our Party.
“With all this in mind, the Executive Commission demands, in the name of the Petersburg organisation, that a special Party conference be convened immediately, in a week, for with conditions as they are, it alone can resolve the question of our peace policy.
“Meanwhile, the Executive Commission declares that we are referring the question of the war and the peace to the highest instances of our Petersburg organisation and also to the district Party organs for consideration.”
Signed: Executive Commission of the Petersburg Committee,
S. Kosior, G. Boky, Ia. Fenigstein, A. Pluzhnikov, S. Ravich
(The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution: Minutes of the Central of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks), August 1917-February 1918. Translated by Ann Bone, London: Pluto Press, 1974, pp. 190-191)
Besides the denunciations of Lenin’s maneuvers to implement his policy in opposition to the will of the majority of the party, and in addition to the demand for the convocation of an extraordinary conference, this text proves that for the leftists the rejection of the peace treaty was a question of principle. They refused to situate the treaty, as Lenin did, on the same plane as the armistice and the peace talks staged to gain time, that is, on the tactical plane! Furthermore, in opposition to Trotsky’s position, they held that the breathing space won by negotiations must not be utilized for the purpose of making speeches and waiting passively for the international revolution while thinking that the Central Empires would be satisfied with the first peace terms the Bolsheviks offered. Upon assuming the position of Commissar for Foreign Affairs, before he departed for Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky said: “My mandate is simple: publish the secret treaties and then shut up shop”. The leftists only conceived of the breathing space as an opportunity to prepare for revolutionary war and the pursuit of a foreign policy devoted to forwarding the world revolutionary process.
After Trotsky’s decision to break off negotiations, which opened the doors to the German offensive, the real test of strength among the three views on the peace, despite the incessant pressure exerted by various committees for the convocation of an extraordinary party congress prior to the holding of the next regular scheduled party congress, took place within the Central Committee. The Central Committee meetings of February 22, 23 and 24 would be decisive with regard to the signing of the peace treaty.
On February 22, Trotsky—with the support of Lenin’s famous telegram absenting himself from the meeting—proposed, in order to stem the German advance, to engage in a “revolutionary” war in alliance with the French and English imperialists. The leftists opposed this proposal. Bukharin, who was especially vehement in his opposition, wrote the following statement: “I hereby declare that I resign from the Central Committee as well as from my position as editor of Pravda”, and then said: “We are turning the party into a dung heap”! Immediately after this meeting, the group of leftists (with Bukharin) published the declaration that was quoted at the beginning of this book.
On February 23, Lenin advocated the signing of the peace treaty and submitting to the terms of the Germans. Taking advantage of the absence of Trotsky, who resigned his position the day before, and of the abstention of Krestinski, Joffe and Dzherzhinsky (who were against the peace treaty but who did not want to precipitate a split in the party) Lenin won the majority. The leftists then resigned from their Party and government positions (Trotsky would also resign his position as Commissar of Foreign Affairs). Uritsky spoke on their behalf: “On behalf of CC members Bukharin, Lomov and Bubnov, candidate member of the CC Iakovleva, Piatakov and Smirnov attending the session and myself, I state that, not wishing to bear responsibility for the decision adopted, which we consider deeply mistaken and fatal to the Russian and the international revolution, particularly as this decision was passed by a minority of the CC—because it is clear from the reasoning of the four who abstained that they share our position—we declare that we are resigning from all responsible Party and Soviet posts and retaining complete freedom to campaign both within the Party and outside it for what we consider to be the only correct positions.” (Ibid., p. 224).
On February 24, the Regional Committee of Moscow—a left stronghold—voted in favor of a motion of censure of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and refused to submit to the measures entailed by the peace treaty. The Moscow leftists, who had always shown themselves to be the most radical long before October 1917, did not belie their reputation. They clearly formulated the entire dialectic of their “rejection of the peace”. The interests of the international revolution must have priority over those of the Russian revolution and, if necessary, the latter must be sacrificed to the success, over the long or short term, of the world process: “The Moscow Regional Committee, considering that a split within the party is probable in the near future, resolves to rally all serious revolutionaries and all Communist elements in struggle against the supporters of a separate peace and the moderate elements of the Communist movement. It would be in accordance with the interests of the world revolution, we believe, to accept the sacrifice of Soviet power, which is becoming purely formal. As in the past, we see our essential task to be the world-wide extension of the ideas of the Socialist revolution and, in Russia, the vigorous exercise of the dictatorship and the pitiless repression of the bourgeois counter-revolution” (Serge, op. cit., p. 199).
After the actual signing of the Peace Treaty (March 3) the leftists would continue to defend their position at the Seventh Party Congress. Alexandra Kollontai declared: “And if our soviet republic must perish, others will raise the banner”! In addition, as demonstrated by the Moscow text, which broke for the first time with the fear of a split nourished by Lenin’s permanent blackmail, they organized as a fraction that had its own journal, separate from Pravda, The Communist. To get an idea of the qualitative importance of this fraction, one may refer to the list of left communists in the appendix of this book.
Although they had illusions, like Lenin, concerning the value of nationalization, the leftists nevertheless were perfectly aware of the fact that an isolated proletarian power cannot survive in the absence of radical economic measures (the destruction of the capitalist relations of production) on an international scale or at least in various countries with significant weight on the market. In their view, the extension of this political power by means of the destruction of the state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat beyond Russia’s borders was therefore of the utmost importance. If this were to prove to be impossible, then it would be better for the isolated power to go down fighting rather than survive at any cost, since in the latter case it would run the risk of changing its nature, that is, undergoing a rapid transformation into a counter-revolutionary instrument and a means of integration into capitalism, both domestically and with regard to foreign policy. Thus, in issue No. 1 of The Communist, the leftists explained the implications of support for the survival of the soviet power at any cost: “‘In such case, all efforts will be directed to the strengthening and development of productive power…. In foreign policy aggressive tactics of exposure of the imperialist powers will be replaced by a policy of diplomatic maneuver by the Russian state amidst the imperialist powers. The Soviet republic will not only conclude trade agreements with them, but will also develop organic economic and political bonds with them, use their military and political support’, and take loans from them. In the result, ‘in conjunction with the policy of managing undertakings on the principle of the extensive participation of capitalists, and of bureaucratic centralization, there will quite naturally arise a policy towards the workers designed to restore discipline among them under the guise of so-called self-discipline, and the introduction of labour conscription…. The form of government must then develop in the direction of bureaucratic centralization, the rule of all manner of commissars, the loss of their independence by the local soviets and rejection in practice of government from below’.” (see Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State. First Phase, 1917-1922, op. cit., p. 136). With Rapallo and all that followed, it can be seen just how premonitory this 1918 text was for the development of the USSR!
Understanding that, unlike the process of a bourgeois revolution, for the course of a proletarian revolution the factor of class consciousness was much more important than holding on to power at any cost, the Russian leftists—like Rosa Luxemburg—perceived the disastrous ideological influence that foreshadowed the transformation of the soviet power into a counterrevolutionary institution. Continuing the article quoted above in issue No. 1 of The Communist, it was Radek who, not yet having become the person dedicated to State Capitalism whose abject exploits we mentioned previously, wrote: “If the Russian Revolution were overthrown by violence on the part of the bourgeois counter-revolution it would rise again like a phoenix; if however it lost its socialist character and thereby disappointed the working masses, the blow would have ten times more terrible consequences for the future of the Russian and the international revolution” (Brinton, op. cit., pp. 38-39).
- 1This episode is in fact nothing but a legend, as has been satisfactorily demonstrated by Souvarine in the journal, The Social Contract.
- 2In a very informative book about the importance of the consequences of the imperialist war of 1914-1918 and of the role of the military forces in the process of the German revolution, Benoist-Méchin begins by emphasizing the importance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which allowed the resumption of the offensive and the intensification of combat on the western front. He quotes Marshall Foch (The Second Battle of the Marne, p. 108): “On March 21, 1918, at 4 in the morning, the sound of thunder suddenly erupted in France, on the front extending from Arras to Noyon. It was the German artillery that was engaged on a front 80 kilometers long. For five hours it battered our positions, annihilated our defenses and defenders and, extending its deadly barrage over a dozen kilometers behind the front lines, poisoned the land with its asphyxiating projectiles. At 9 in the morning, 50 enemy divisions, a half a million men, protected by a thick haze, launched an attack on the devastated allied trenches. The German soldiers were animated by a furious enthusiasm and absolute confidence. The British armies had to face the most formidable assault of the entire war”; and Foch goes on to say: “The complete collapse of the eastern front as a result of the Russian revolution allowed the German General Staff to concentrate all its resources on the western front. The German army therefore enjoys a slight numerical superiority. This advantage must be capitalized on without delay, in order to shatter the allied front before the arrival of American troops. Ludendorff, abandoning the ‘tactic of attrition’, has adopted the ‘tactic of annihilation’. One offensive was launched after another; five in all. March 21, April 9, May 27, June 9, one after another the grey waves were unleashed upon France. But all of them, after an advance of greater or lesser extent, were finally stymied, thanks to the heroism and tenacity of our soldiers”. Benoist-Méchin’s book is entitled, History of the German Army (See Vol. I, From the Imperial Army to the Reichswehr, 1918-19, Albin Michel, pp. 25-26).
Brest-Litovsk: yesterday and today
The decisive nature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
In an article that appeared in the February 25, 1918 issue of Pravda, entitled, “A Painful but Necessary Lesson”, Lenin wrote: “The week from February 18 to 24, 1918, has been one that will be remembered as a great turning-point in the history of the Russian—and the international—revolution” (Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 62-66). It was during the course of that week that the situation tipped in his favor, when he obtained the support of the majority on the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party thanks to the threat posed by the German advance. The policy of peace at any price that he advocated prevailed a few days later at Brest-Litovsk at the expense of the extension of the revolution.
Lenin was right to insist upon the decisive character of the course chosen at that time for the subsequent development of the Russian and international revolutionary process. In all the historical and political literature on the period in question, the events that led up to Brest-Litovsk and the treaty itself are usually analyzed as merely one phase of the process among others: very few of the authors whose studies merit interest (see the Bibliography at the end of this book) emphasize its particular importance. If some of them understand the radical implications of the debates that convulsed the Bolshevik Party in connection with this issue (Victor Serge, for example, devotes approximately fifty pages of Volume I of his book, Year One of the Russian Revolution, to this topic), it is only in order to adopt Lenin’s position and to judge it as the only “realistic” option under the circumstances. However, even someone like E. H. Carr was capable of drawing attention to the fact that there was a fundamental contradiction in the foreign policy of the Soviet power after Brest-Litovsk: he perceived that the defense of the Russian State was an obstacle that stood in the way of support for the international revolution (he referred to it as “The Dual Policy” in Volume III of his book, The Bolshevik Revolution!).
Our position, which we have so often clearly proclaimed since the beginning of this book, is that Brest-Litovsk meant that the defense of the Russian State was not just an obstacle, but a dead end: with the signing of the peace treaty, any chances of extending the revolution were buried and the subsequent foreign policy of the Bolsheviks was not a “dual” policy but entirely oriented towards the defense of the interests of the national state, its reconstruction and its expansion. All the “revolutionary” phraseology of the party consisted in throwing up a smokescreen before the eyes of the radical communist groups of the other countries in order to compensate for the negative impact of its compromises with capitalism. Thus, there was merely a formal difference between Chicherin, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and Zinoviev, the first president of the Third International, since the latter organization, from the very day of its founding, was only conceived as a way to capture the communist movement that was breaking with social democracy and the Second International in order to enlist it in the service of an embryonic State Capitalism. When its dominant influence over the nascent world movement was almost totally assured, Bolshevik tactics and compromises were transformed into “revolutionary” politics and officially theorized: the Bolsheviks only preserved the old phraseology for “special occasions” (anniversaries, parades, etc.)!
An indispensable theoretical reflection on the meaning of Brest-Litovsk
Among the many attempts to engage in theoretical reflection on the most important causes of the counterrevolution, attempts that would continue until the late 1960s, few and far between are those that focus on the impact of the fundamentally erroneous foreign policy of the Bolsheviks—and this was the case even during the time of Lenin—on the development of the world revolutionary process, with as much clarity as the text that was published in L’Internationale in 1937 (See Part IV of Appendix). Most of the texts written by the ultra-left current prior to the Second Imperialist War were somewhat weak with regard to this analysis. For some, such as the Bordiguist current, the Leninist period was still practically taboo and its presence in the Third International is not only not discussed today but is justified right up until 1926. Even today, some engage in a more or less critical “gilding of the pill” of this Bordiguist theory, and in order to explain the necessity of signing the peace treaty, as well as that of making other compromises, as with the peasantry, they invented the aberrant concept of a transitional state separate from the dictatorship of the proletariat. For others, such as the councilist current, the Russian revolution is understood as purely and simply a bourgeois revolution because of its separation from the rest of the proletarian movement that emerged, with its strengths but also its weaknesses, from the world crisis of the system that began in 1914, and from the break with the old movement of the past that made its home in the camp of capital. Nothing was taken into consideration except the impact of Russia’s economic backwardness. Thus, the core argument of this current, which leads to the complete denial of the proletarian character of the Russian revolution, does not allow its exponents to understand the causes of the persistence, and later, the definitive predominance of, capitalist tendencies in Bolshevik policy and their domination over the Russian, and then the international, proletariat. To the contrary, it imputes the causes of the bourgeois course almost exclusively to the Machiavellian maneuvers of the Bolsheviks who thus are transformed, by this fact alone, into veritable demiurges who control objective reality at their whim. In any event, since there was no proletarian revolution in Russia, for the councilists the counterrevolution does not exist either and the only lesson to be learned is that all parties are totally bourgeois (it is amusing to note, on the other hand, that for this thesis the existence of the Russian Soviets is never perceived as a contradiction of the claim of the bourgeois character of the revolution!).
Our reflections on Brest-Litovsk have no pretensions of being either a historical exegesis or an exercise in style; their purpose is to take their place in the framework of a profound labor of theoretical and practical import with regard to the problems of the period of transition to communism, problems which shall arise tomorrow and which we must prepare for today: destruction of the state, extension of the revolution, the use of violence, abolition of wage labor and the commodity economy…. In the name of a “rejection of politics” as simplistic and as dangerous as that of the anarchists after the First International, some of these problems are considered to be of no importance and one succumbs to all kinds of lucubrations about integral communism. The economism of the text of the Dutch Left entitled “The Principles of Communist Production and Distribution” illustrates the kind of dead end such a leap into the future can lead to without first having thoroughly examined the conditions of the transition to that future. Even so, the merit of this attempt to address the economic problems of the period of transition, one of the first since Marx’s marginal notes on the Gotha Program, the positive side of this text, is still essentially the explanation of why nationalization and state ownership have nothing to do with socialization. The theoretical framework built upon the structure of social average labor time as the foundation of communist production and distribution and its practical proposals (e.g., labor coupons) do not represent, on the other hand, a solution that breaks with the law of value. Even if it is true that conditions are much more mature than they were in Marx’s time, they are still not such as to allow us to rise to the challenge in a practical way of the social and economic organization of the lower stage of communism (the period of transition), and this is even more true of the higher stage of communism; they help us, above all, to get a better idea of the limitations of the possibilities for the destruction of the capitalist system which, despite its decadence and its crisis, will not collapse on its own only to make way for communism, leaving it, in the end, the Third World War as another way of continuing its political economy and perpetuating exploitation! Do we have to remind our readers that Marx, besides his work on the economy (the unfinished Capital) had proposed as an essential goal a study of “the struggle for the abolition of the state and of bourgeois society”? (See M. Rubel, Marx, Critic of Marxism, Payot, p. 398).
The myth of “German-Bolshevik” collusion
The bourgeois explanation of history rests, in the final accounting, on the Machiavellian will of individuals and groups or the manipulation of the latter with the aid of money, or even other expedients. This is the way that an author like David Shub approaches history, a former Bolshevik who participated in the revolution of 1905 and who, condemned to deportation to Siberia, managed to escape and came to live in the United States. In his book, Lenin: A Biography, he writes, for example: “Lenin’s larger ideological motivations for concluding the Brest-Litovsk Treaty have been clear since 1918. The power of German arms was perhaps conclusive in any case. Yet it has only been in the last decade that historians have been able to understand the powerful non-military influences which Germany was able to exert on Lenin in 1917-18. The understanding is a result of the capture after World War II of numerous secret documents of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, which became available to scholars in the mid-1950s [Shub provides, in a footnote, a list of the documents in question] These documents essentially corroborate the Provisional Government’s charges that the Bolshevik Party received money from the Central Powers for the purpose of demoralizing the Russian Army, overthrowing the Provisional Government and preparing for a separate peace. These dealings, which began in the autumn of 1914 with a subsidy of some $5,700 to Lenin’s newspaper Sozialdemokrat by the Austrian-sponsored ‘Union for the Liberation of the Ukraine’, reached their height with the activities of Parvus and his Copenhagen Institute, Ganetsky and various German diplomats during the stormy months between the fall of the autocracy and Lenin’s coup. German subsidies continued, however, after Lenin had seized power. On 28 November 1917, German Under-State Secretary Busche wired the Minister in Berne: ‘According to information received here, the government in Petrograd is having to fight against great financial difficulties. It is therefore very desirable that they be sent money.’ A few days later, State Secretary von Kühlmann telegraphed his liaison officer at General Headquarters: ‘It was not until the Bolsheviks had received from us a stead flow of funds through various channels and under different labels that they were in a position to be able to build up their main organ, Pravda, to conduct energetic propaganda and appreciably to extend the originally narrow basis of their party. The Bolsheviks have now come to power; how long they will retain power cannot yet be foreseen. They need peace in order to strengthen their own position; on the other hand, it is entirely in our interest that we should exploit the period while they are in power, which may be a short one, in order to attain firstly an armistice and then, if possible, peace.’ Even after the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Imperial German diplomacy continued to assist the Lenin régime….” After having provided more evidence of German subsidies, this author concludes by saying: “… it is inconceivable that Lenin was unaware of the timely and substantial assistance provided his movement by the Kaiser’s Government. Not that the German subsidies altered his views; to the contrary, precisely because of his views he was their ideal recipient” (David Shub, Lenin: A Biography, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1970, pp. 341-343). In view of these kinds of arrangements, it is just as easy to fall back upon the legend of the “sealed train car” (see the footnote above which discusses this particular point) as it is to draw the same conclusions about German manipulation. This is how Renata Bounazel explains the matter in her book, Rapallo, Birth of a Myth (Ibid., pp. 118-119): “From the encounter between Pan-Germanist Prussia and Moscow Pan-Slavism—by means of Hegel and Marx—the worst result that could happen would be their alliance: a monstrously powerful alliance. For German technology, combined with the Russian masses—who, on the old continent, could hope to resist them? Michelet’s prophecy seemed to come true in 1917 when Lenin and his comrades traveled across Germany to Russia, with the tacit consent of the German Government and its General Staff, which put the famous ‘sealed train car’ at their disposal. This episode of the Russian revolution, which in the final accounting was of secondary importance, would have the result of making Lenin appear to be an ally of the central powers, even an agent in the pay of the German government, whose mission was to overthrow the Czarist power for the benefit of imperial Germany, and this idea would have a lasting effect on the image that was formed of the Bolsheviks in the West.” And she would point out a few lines later how all of this would culminate in Brest-Litovsk: “The peace of Brest-Litovsk, despite its extremely humiliating character for the Soviet power and the very harsh conditions it imposed on the latter, symbolized for the French the ‘treason’ of the new Russia at one of the most crucial moments of the war and far from being sensitive to the subtleties of Soviet diplomacy and, in particular, that of Trotsky, who, by way of the formula, ‘neither peace nor war’ sought to prove that the Bolsheviks were not accomplices of imperial Germany, saw it instead as the overwhelming demonstration of a conspiracy between the Soviet and the German leaders. Thus, the myth of the ‘Germano-Bolshevik’ collusion was born in France, which so profoundly influenced French policy after the war”.
The rupture of 1914 and the ideological weight of the past
It is certainly true that Lenin made abundant use of inter-imperialist contradictions and did so first of all as a militant with respect to his own needs and those of the Bolshevik party (crossing Germany in the “sealed train car”, receipt of various sums of money….). Afterwards, he raised these practices to the status of “revolutionary” tactics, which he applied in the name of the proletariat at the time of the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. But the roots of his utilization of these contradictions lay in neither Machiavellianism nor in his manipulation by one or another imperialist power! This is a point that must be clarified in connection with the bourgeois notion of history.
If Lenin underestimated the weight of the pressure of the capitalist system and its role in the gradual resumption of a revolutionary process via the detour of compromises, this was due to the fact that his goals and the program of the Bolshevik Party (even after the “April Theses”) were marked by the persistence of old positions and their coexistence alongside the new ones imposed by the crisis and the revolutionary movement. There would never be an abandonment of the social democratic separation between the minimum and the maximum programs. Once in power, the Bolsheviks gave a higher priority to the pressures imposed by the system than they did to the pressures imposed by the masses, increasingly imposing the old positions as opposed to the new ones (in the image of German social democracy, the minimum program was emphasized at the expense of the maximum program, which itself served no other purpose than ideological disguise, as in the case of Kautsky!). Thus, they became the active factors working for a restructuring of the system under the form that corresponds to its decadent stage: State Capitalism.
Despite their ideological break with the old workers movement in 1914, the Bolsheviks and Lenin—like, however, the rest of the currents that met at Zimmerwald and Kienthal—were far from having grasped all the theoretical and practical implications of this break, particularly with regard to the process of the transition to communism. Although they understood that a new period had opened up, they had not totally disencumbered themselves of the subjective attitudes characteristic of the old movement. It is therefore in the insufficiency of the process of political reflection on the significance of the rupture of 1914 where the reasons for Lenin’s vacillations must be sought, the reasons for his continued attachment to and preservation of social democratic positions and, later, for his domination over the Bolshevik party with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
This sheds light on Lenin’s trajectory, which led him from the slogans, “revolutionary defeatism” and “transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war” (1915-1916) to “a democratic peace” (April 1917) and finally to those of “unconditional peace” and “defense of the fatherland” (November 1917-February 1918). In the following passage all the justifications for a pseudo-“new policy” that emerged as a result of the insufficiencies of the break of 1914 are concentrated: “We are and have been defencists since October 25, 1917, we champion the defence of the fatherland ever since that day. That is because we have shown by deeds that we have broken away from imperialism. We have denounced and published the filthy, bloodstained treaties of the imperialist plotters. We have overthrown our own bourgeoisie. We have given freedom to the peoples we formerly oppressed. We have given land to the people and introduced workers’ control. We are in favour of defending the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. And because we are in favour of defending the fatherland we demand a serious attitude towards the country’s defence potential and preparedness for war. We declare a ruthless war against revolutionary phrases about revolutionary war. There must be a lengthy, serious preparation for it, beginning with economic progress, the restoration of the railways (for without them modern warfare is an empty phrase) and with the establishment of the strictest revolutionary discipline and self-discipline everywhere” (Lenin, “A Painful but Necessary Lesson”, op. cit.).
The list of old political positions reintroduced into the new movement was therefore very significant: substitutionism of the party in place of the proletariat, right of national self-determination, land to the peasants, nationalization and workers control…. With regard to the question of State Capitalism being considered as a “step forward” and the “ante-room of socialism”, Anton Pannekoek had already shown, in 1916 in Vorbote—the German-language newspaper of the left Zimmerwaldians, which included the Dutch Tribunists—that so-called socialist nationalization was in fact nothing but a means of rehabilitating capitalism for the purpose of intensifying the exploitation of the proletariat: “The wartime experience gained during state control over industry and commerce has developed, in a large part of the bourgeoisie, the idea of state ‘socialism’. The advantages of a centralized system of production over private ownership are well known today…. This state socialism can only aggravate the proletarian condition and strengthen oppression. In spite of this, one can foresee that a large sector of Social Democracy will not oppose it, and will even support it. Its old ideology will, in effect, link Social Democracy with the new system of state exploitation….” (Anton Pannekoek, “Wenn der Krieg zu Ende Geht”, published in Vorbote, April 2, 1916, pp. 22-27; English translation in Serge Bricianer, ed., Pannekoek and the Workers Councils, Telos Press, St. Louis, 1978, p. 143).
The German-Dutch left and the Polish left demonstrated much more awareness than the Bolsheviks with regard to the erroneous positions that must not be repeated but criticized and discarded in order to meet the political challenge of the new period that opened up in 1914:
“‘The collapse of the International caused by the world war is not simply a surrender of international sentiment before the power of intensified nationalism…. The present catastrophe indicates more than the proletariat’s inability to prevent the outbreak of war: it means that the methods of the era of the Second International failed to increase the intellectual and material power of the proletariat to the point where it could break the power of the ruling classes. Therefore, the world war must be a turning point in the history of the working class movement….’ In other words they must strive for a new spiritual orientation. The proletariat, acting under unprecedented conditions, cannot rely on old ideas or old norms; hence the absolute need for an organizational break with ‘those who would make social-democracy a tool of imperialism.’ This is what Pannekoek wrote in his opening editorial for the first issue of Vorbote” (Bricianer, op. cit., p. 139).
These left currents were to remain, however, supporters, albeit critical supporters, of the Bolsheviks and the Russian regime until 1920. For the Polish left, this was facilitated thanks to attacks leveled against L. Jogisches and the split orchestrated by Radek: eventually it even renounced all its advanced positions, particularly with regard to the national question, and ended up merging with Bolshevism. For the German-Dutch left, its position was based on its analysis which theorized a separation between the objective conditions in Russia and those in western Europe and which in turn led it to accept the coexistence of two different but equally valid tactics for the road to communism (See H. Gorter’s Response to Lenin). It was only with the formation of the KAPD that the most important advance in understanding was achieved thanks to the transcendence of both social democracy and bolshevism.
Democratic and nationalist mystifications against the world proletarian revolution
In his article, “The Junius Pamphlet” (July 1916), Lenin accused Rosa Luxemburg of conceiving of a “defense of the fatherland” in the event that social democracy should adopt the program of Marx, Engels and Lasalle of 1848: “the slogan of a united, Great German republic”!
“Another fallacious argument advanced by Junius is in connection with the question of defence of the fatherland. This is a cardinal political question during an imperialist war. Junius has strengthened us in our conviction that our Party has indicated the only correct approach to this question: the proletariat is opposed to defence of the fatherland in this imperialist war because of its predatory, slave-owning, reactionary character, because it is possible and necessary to oppose to it (and to strive to convert it into) civil war for socialism. Junius, however, while brilliantly exposing the imperialist character of the present war as distinct from a national war, falls into the very strange error of trying to drag a national programme into the present non-national war. It sounds almost incredible, but it is true” (Lenin, Collected Works, Moscow, Vol. 22, pp. 305-319).
Rosa Luxemburg proved to be capable of overcoming this “very strange error” when she defined the only possible alternative to imperialism in her programmatic speech on behalf of the Spartacus League: the international proletarian revolution! Lenin’s subsequent course would follow the opposite direction since he was the one who would pursue a national policy. By signing the peace of Brest-Litovsk, he would implement a national program at the expense of the extension of the revolution. What differentiates this national program from that of 1848 is simply its “socialist” label that replaced that of “republican”. For the capitalist state, overthrown and re-christened as “proletarian”, with the Bolsheviks at its helm, and with economic measures designed to reinforce State Capitalism, not only had nothing to do with socialism, but was furthermore the biggest obstacle standing in the way of socialism. Evidently, Lenin thought otherwise, and this is why he allowed for, “… under certain special conditions—a war to defend the socialist state against bourgeois states is possible” (ibid. The emphasis is ours). This must be considered in connection with his erroneous views with regard to the national question: after 1914 he thought it was still possible, despite his understanding of the imperialist framework as decisive, to transform the imperialist war into national wars, and that some of the latter could be attributed with a progressive character as anti-imperialist struggles:
“A national war can be transformed into an imperialist war, and vice versa. For example, the wars of the Great French Revolution started as national wars and were such. They were revolutionary wars because they were waged in defence of the Great Revolution against a coalition of counter-revolutionary monarchies. But after Napoleon had created the French Empire by subjugating a number of large, virile, long established national states of Europe, the French national wars became imperialist wars, which in their turn engendered wars for national liberation against Napoleon’s imperialism” (ibid.).
Because he did not discern the fundamental difference between the process of a bourgeois revolution and that of a proletarian revolution, Lenin conceived of the possibility for a civil war to start and then to pause provisionally at the national level. Even with his theory of the “permanent revolution”, Trotsky was equally mistaken: a democratic course of development cannot grow until it is transformed into a socialist course of development even if it passes from the national to the international level, since this would mean that in the imperialist era, as in the 19th century, democracy would still play a progressive role for the proletariat.
The great lesson of Brest-Litovsk is the proof that the proletarian revolution arises and develops entirely on the international plane, and thus autonomously with respect to all democratic and nationalist mystifications that are produced by Capital in decline. For a dictatorship of the proletariat established in any geographical region of the earth, the indispensable condition for the preservation of its revolutionary character is the extension of the revolution.
Faced with the current world crisis of the capitalist system, the proletariat which has just begun to emerge from the counterrevolution of the last 50 years must learn this lesson and many others if it wants to free itself, and by this means alone must pull humanity towards communism rather than drown with it in unbridled barbarism.
As Rosa Luxemburg said in her “Junius Pamphlet”:
“The modern proletariat emerges differently from its historical experience. Its problems are as gigantic as its mistakes. No pre-established schema, no ritual that holds good at all times, shows it the path that it must travel. Historical experience is its only teacher; its Via Dolorosa to self-liberation is covered not only with immeasurable suffering, but with countless mistakes. The goal of its journey, its final liberation, depends on the proletariat on whether it understands that it must learn from its own mistakes. Self-criticism, cruel, unsparing criticism that goes to the very root of things is life and light of the proletarian movement. The catastrophe of the socialist proletariat in the present World War is an unexampled misfortune for humanity. But socialism is lost only if the international proletariat is unable to measure the depths of the catastrophe and refuses to learn from it” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet, Part One, in Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, Dick Howard, ed., Monthly Review Press, New York, 1971, pp. 324-325).
I. Speech by Hugo Eberlein, delegate of the German Communist Party, at the founding congress of the Third International (Third Session, March 4, 1919)
Comrades! We have already discussed at length at the beginning of the conference the question as to whether this conference should become a congress at which the Third International is to be founded or whether we ought to first prepare for its founding. We agree at the urging of the German delegation, which was not authorized1 to vote for immediate founding, that this should be a conference preparing the founding of the Third International, which act would occur later. Since in spite of that decision, some comrades are again attempting to establish the Third International immediately, I feel compelled to briefly explain to you what motivated us to advise against going on with the founding now. When it is stated that the founding of the Third International is an absolute necessity, we venture to dispute this. If it is said that the proletariat needs in its struggle above all an intellectual center, it can also be said that such a center already exists, and that all those elements which have come together on the basis of the council system have thereby already separated themselves from all the other elements in the working class who are still inclined toward bourgeois democracy; we see this separation taking place everywhere.
But a Third International cannot merely be an intellectual center, not merely an institution at which theoreticians deliver heated speeches to each other; it must be the basis for organizational power. If we want to make a useful instrument of the Third International, if we want to forge this International into a weapon, then the preconditions for it must obtain. This question cannot be raised or judged alone from an intellectual standpoint; rather we must ask ourselves objectively if the organizational bases exist. I always have the feeling that the comrades pressing for founding are letting themselves be very much influenced by the development of the Second International, and that they wish to start an organization in competition with the Berne Conference.2 That seems less important to us, and when it is said that a clarification is necessary or else all doubtful elements will go over to the Yellow International, then I say that the founding of the Third International will not stop those who are today still going over to the other side. If they are still going over, then they belong there.
But the most important question concerning the founding of a Third International is, what do we want, what platform makes it possible for us to join with one another? The reports from the comrades of the different countries showed that the ideas as to activity, as to the means toward the end, were unknown to them, and when the delegations from the different countries came here, they could not have come with the decision to participate at the founding of the Third International. It is their tasks to inform their memberships first, and even the invitation assumes this, as it reads on the first page.
“All these circumstances compel us to take the initiative to bring on the agenda for discussion the question of calling together an international congress of revolutionary proletarian parties.”
Hence, already in the invitation it is said that we must first examine the question here whether it is possible to call the comrades together to a founding congress. That the ignorance concerning the goals and directions of the individual parties was great as long as there was no discussion here is shown by the letter from Longuet,3 a comrade active in political life who sympathizes with the center but who still thinks it is possible for us to participate in the Berne Conference. We in Germany did not know either how great the contradictions among the parties were, and when we left Germany I was prepared for deep disagreements on the various issues. I must say that we are unanimous on most questions, but we did know that beforehand.
If we want to proceed with the founding of the Third International, then we must first tell the world where we stand, first explain which path it is upon which we can and want to unite. It is not true to say that the Third International was already founded at Zimmerwald. The Zimmerwald movement fell apart a long time ago, and only the small part of it left can be considered for cooperation later on. On the one hand, all these things advise against establishing the Third International now, but it is organizational issues which warn us against it on the other. For what do we have? There are real communist parties in only a few countries; in most others, they have been created within the last few weeks, and in several countries communists have as yet no organizations.
I am astonished to hear the delegate from Sweden propose the founding of the Third International when he must admit that there is as yet no purely communist organization in Sweden, but merely a large communist group within the Swedish Social Democratic party. We know that in Switzerland and other countries real parties do not exist and still have to be created, so that the comrades there can only speak in the name of groups. Can they really say who stands behind them today: Finland, Russia, Sweden, Austria-Hungary, and from the Balkans not even the whole Federation? The delegates from Greece and Serbia do not recognize Rakovsky4 as their representative. All of western Europe is missing: Belgium and Italy are not represented; the Swiss delegates cannot speak in the name of one party; France, England, Spain and Portugal are missing; and America is also not in a position to say which parties would stand with us. There are so few organizations participating in the founding of the Third International that it is even difficult to make it all public. It is therefore necessary that we make our platform known to the world before we go on with the founding, and then call upon the communist organizations to declare their willingness to create the Third International with us.
Communist organizations must be promoted, for it is no longer possible to work with Kautsky and Scheidemann. I strongly urge you not to establish the Third International and beg you not to act too quickly, but to call together in the shortest possible time a congress at which the new international will be founded, an international which will really have power behind it.
Those are the reservations which my organization has about the immediate establishment of the Third International, and I beg you to consider in a mature fashion if it is advisable to proceed with the founding on such a weak basis.
(From Der 1. Kongress der Kommunistichen Internationale. Protokoll der Verhandlungen in Moskau vom 2. bis zum 19. [6.] März 1919 (Hamburg, 1921); reprinted in Helmut Gruber, ed., International Communism in the Era of Lenin. A Documentary History, Anchor Books, Garden City, New York, 1972, pp. 79-82)
II. List of the more important Left Communists in 1918
N. Antonov (Luikn)
S. I. Bobinsky
N. I. Bukharin
Ya. Fenigshtein (Doletsky)
V. N. Yakovleva
A. Lomov (Oppokov)
N. Lukina (Bukharina)
V. G. Myasnikov
V. Osinsky (Obolensky)
M. Saveliev (I. Vetrov)
I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov
V. M. Smirnov
M. Vasiliev (Saratov)
B. G. Zul’
(Taken from “Appendix B” of Leonard Schapiro’s book, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State. First Phase, 1917-1922, op. cit., p. 366)
III. Excerpt from N. Osinski’s article entitled, “On the Construction of Socialism”, published in issues Nos. 1 and 2 of The Communist in response to Lenin’s text, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Power”
Recent events, within the majority of our party, have led to a “new orientation” and to new problematics. We are not speaking of foreign policy but of domestic policy and especially economic policy.
This new orientation, which comes from comrade Lenin, is as follows: until the end of January 1918 we underwent a difficult period of civil war, a time of the sudden destruction of forces and of the political and economic orders that those forces defended. Now that time has passed and a new period has begun: a period of concrete and positive labor for the “organic construction” of a new society. On the one hand, we must construct socialism. On the other hand, we must first of all create the order that everyone demands, and we must put an end to disorder, indiscipline and corruption. Because we are now strong, because our enemies have been annihilated, we must not fear to use the social forces that were previously opposed to us. We must therefore allow the “intellectuals”, who previously sabotaged our efforts, to work for us. They used to work on behalf of capital in exchange for money. We, too, can buy them with money. It is among the intellectuals that we shall find those organizers of production, those “captains of industry” who organized the economy for capital, and there are many of them. Thus, just as we were obliged to use the Czarist officers to help us build the Red Army, so we are likewise obliged to use the services of the organizers of trusts so that we may buy the organization of socialism at a low price.
“Teach the organization of socialism to the organizers of trusts”; such is the maxim of comrade Lenin. Another of his maxims is “Put an end to negligence”. Negligence, desertion, theft; everything that flourishes on our national soil is also prevalent at every level of the organizations that direct the various sectors of the economy. “Do not pilfer, do not be lazy, above all keep your accounts up to date”; these simple petty bourgeois appeals must be our leading principles. We have to make everyone (employees, workers, paper pushers) understand that they cannot just consume, but they must also perform adequate labor. To achieve this, self-discipline and comradery are necessary, but so is the reinforcement of the dictatorial power of the commissars who have been elected by the Soviets and, in short, have the job of seeing to it that people work rather than just talk. The productivity of labor must be increased in the factories by means of the introduction of piecework wages and wage incentives for more productive workers, and the same goes for the railroads, etc. We must also adopt the American Taylor System, which combines hourly wages and piecework wages: thus, one will be paid not just for the quantity of goods one has produced, but also in consideration of the time saved in production.
Those responsible for this “new organization” claim that all of this will rapidly lead to the construction of socialism and that their new conception of political problems is exclusively determined by the existence within the country of a new organic period. All of these new organizations have appeared, however, surprisingly enough, precisely at the moment of the signing of the peace treaty, in conjunction with that retreat before world capital that was accepted as the basis of the imposed peace, with the enormous concessions to foreign imperialism that it entails. The war was fought not only for the conquest of the country, of its territory; but also in order to economically incorporate this territory into the grasp of the tentacles of capital. The imperialist powers assure their rule with these peace-conquests in order to derive profits from the economy of the defeated country. Nonetheless, this new “socialist” organic period, according to comrade Lenin himself, can commence thanks to the alliance and the establishment of relations with foreign capital, from whom he seeks to obtain money, engineers, weapons, military experts and even troops. It can make its debut with the creation of an official regular army, called the “red army”, which, however, is being formed in close (too close, and too dangerous) collaboration with Czarist officers and generals.5
IV. The Foreign Policy of the USSR (an article from L’Internationale, the journal of Union Communiste—see note at the end of the article—No. 33, December 10, 1937)
This policy includes both relations with capitalist states and putting pressure on these states via the intermediary of the organizations that are part of the Third International. These two factors are intimately related and the USSR has increasingly subordinated the second factor to the first.
The diplomacy of the USSR, like that of all countries of our time, depends on its objective position vis-à-vis the victors of Versailles and the League of Nations.
It is understood that the USSR was not one of the beneficiaries of the Treaty of Versailles, and after Brest-Litovsk it was separated from the Entente and the negotiations leading to the founding of the League of Nations. In this regard it was like Germany, the principle victim of Versailles.
The United States, which did not join the League of Nations, then moved closer to these two countries, in which it was considering capital investments. We shall also point out in this connection that for America, the Soviet Union was a very vigilant watchdog over Japan.
The simple bourgeois diplomacy that the Bolsheviks then adopted required, therefore, that the first Soviet-imperialist agreements should be established within the framework of this kind of anti-Entente bloc. This state of affairs was clearly illustrated by the Soviet Union’s overtures to the United States and the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo with Germany.
The formula, “make use of inter-imperialist contradictions”, which the Bolsheviks wanted to utilize in a revolutionary way and upon the basis of which they were ready to justify everything they did in the name of Marxism, was really nothing other than the very definition of bourgeois diplomacy. When a bourgeois state joins an imperialist bloc it does so in order to make use of the contradictions that exist between the countries with which it is allied and the countries of the enemy bloc.
The Soviet Union, in opposition to France, England and the League of Nations, sought to politically justify its stance in the eyes of workers, or more precisely speaking, the USSR sought to obtain support for its policies from the communist organizations, and made its diplomacy one of the planks of the program of the Third International.
The Entente and the League of Nations were depicted as an especially counter-revolutionary coalition against the domestic regime of the USSR; in reality, Germany and the United States were no less hostile to the October Revolution than were the member states of the League of Nations. The League of Nations in particular was defined with a special degree of horror as a “den of imperialist bandits”; but the Genoa Conference of 1922 was a meeting of these bandits yet Chicherin was sent to attend it and there he made a speech that was overflowing with good will and obsequiousness. And the USSR responded to various appeals from this “den of imperialist bandits” (the Naval Conference of 1923, the Disarmament Conference of 1927).
When the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Rapallo, the Communist International concealed its capitalist character behind a theory of the defense of the vanquished; the workers of all countries would be invited to feel compassion for the German bourgeoisie who were robbed and crushed by the reparations.
During the entire period of Leninist power, the world’s states were busy rebuilding their economies, which had been disrupted by the war; but all their deeds were hidden behind a veil of false pacifist pretenses. Despite the propaganda of the Third International, the USSR could not resist the temptation to participate in this concert of pacifist deception. Especially in 1922, in April in Genoa, in July in The Hague, and then in 1923 and the Disarmament Conference of 1927.
In 1921, another kind of diplomacy began: the non-aggression pacts that are still being negotiated in our day. So the Soviet Union signed non-aggression pacts with Persia, Afghanistan, China, etc.; and then later the non-aggression pact with Italy and almost all the other imperialist countries. The Bolsheviks, who at first refused to promise the countries of the Entente that they would not tolerate revolutionary activity against them, have since given political guarantees of the following kind to Afghanistan and Persia:
“The contracting parties will not allow and will prevent the use of their territory for the organization and activity of groups, or of isolated persons, who harm the other contracting party by agitating for the overthrow of the state regime” (1936).
This brief overview of Russia’s foreign policy during the Leninist period of the USSR, shows that one cannot discover a sharp distinction between Leninist and Stalinist policy; in this domain, as in the others, the Bolsheviks had paved, under the pretext of necessity, the road to Stalinism.
Stalin’s entry into the League of Nations, for example, was not actually a betrayal of any kind, but only a contradiction with the political propaganda of the Third International from the previous period that was disseminated for the purpose of supporting the economic position of the USSR against the Entente.
A treaty like the one signed at Rapallo in 1922 was a compromise so dangerous and so harmful that the Bolsheviks had to engage in special efforts to make it appear to be a model revolutionary achievement. On May 18, 1922, the Central Executive Committee of the USSR “expressed its satisfaction with the Russo-German treaty signed at Rapallo, and considers it to be the only justifiable solution to escape the difficulties, the chaos and the dangers of war”.
Lenin’s government thus retreated before the pressure of imperialism and found capitulation to be the “only justifiable solution” to the imperialist offensive, which it referred to as “difficulties, the chaos and the dangers of war”. The revolutionary struggle of the Russian proletariat was represented, then, by diplomatic deals but, in relation to the Revolution of October, Rapallo signified defeat on the international plane and it was on the basis of a whole series of such defeats that Stalinism would emerge and grow, that is, the internal defeat.
The Stalinist diplomacy that followed would assume a counterrevolutionary character when the maturation of the exploiting class allowed the USSR to categorically declare its position with regard to the new international situation: the period of imperialist pacifism would give way to the period of the intensive preparation for a new imperialist war.
Stalin, after having changed sides, joined the League of Nations, signed the Franco-Soviet Accord, gave his approval for and material aid to the accelerated rearmament of French capitalism: the USSR would do its part to help bring about a Sacred Union in all the countries that might be its allies; in the conflicts that were to break out as so many preludes to the world war, the USSR would become involved in the shady deals of the League of Nations (in particular, with regard to Ethiopia), the Committee for Non-Intervention with regard to Spain, and the Brussels Committee with regard to China. Everything that could stand in the way of this preparation for war will be fought and crushed: the USSR will play the role of the vanguard of the counterrevolution.
All Stalinist diplomacy, as well as the domestic Soviet regime, forbids one in advance from speaking of a class opposition between the USSR and the other capitalist countries. The USSR will be an object of aggression just like any other country; in the eyes of the other nations, it is nothing but a big competitor in the world market. And the countries that are opposed to the USSR are hostile to its economic positions, and not to its regime, which looks more like that of the fascist states, its “enemies”, than like that of the democratic countries, its “allies”.
The Soviet bureaucracy is not defending proletarian democracy, since it abolished that democracy; it is not defending the welfare of the working class, since it exploits them; it is not defending the power of the Soviets and the trade unions, since they no longer have any power.
What Stalinism is defending (and what the proletariat does not have to defend) are the markets required for its trade, and the Russian territory where it “possesses” immense wealth and millions of workers to exploit.
The Third International: an instrument of the Russian state
By saying that the workers’ state can only survive with the help of the international revolutionary movement, the communists want to be understood as saying that the USSR, as a result of domestic difficulties experienced by the bourgeois governments, could expect that some day the proletariat will come to power in enough countries to form an insurmountable bloc. The action of the workers of all countries would therefore constitute both an obstacle to imperialist intervention in the USSR and the process leading to the formation of a new revolutionary power.
But the retreat of the workers movement in all countries has led the Bolshevik government to no longer expect or to help facilitate the process of a new revolution, but to simply use workers agitation as a means to exert pressure on the capitalist countries.
A communist opposition in a bourgeois nation reinforces the diplomatic and economic position of the USSR, but the outbreak of a new revolution could not, on the other hand, do anything but disturb the conversations of the Soviet ambassadors and create difficulties for the USSR.
In this conceptual framework, the Treaty of Rapallo certainly had a great deal of influence on the policy of the Third International: the “negligence” of the Russian leaders of the Komintern with respect to the revolutionary movement of 1923 in Germany can be explained easily by the desire not to jeopardize the economic assistance the Soviet Union was receiving from Germany by supporting a revolutionary movement that might fail.
Later, Stalin’s decision in 1927 to surrender the proletariat to Chang Kai-Shek may be explained by the same reasons. Ultimately, the entire disastrous policy of the Third International, its complete subordination to the Russian state from its very inception, must be understood within the context of such considerations.
Today, the USSR has conferred, as in all domains, an openly counterrevolutionary character on the directives that it sends to foreign communist organizations. The reconciliation with social democracy, the policy of the Popular Front, the reconciliation of the workers with the “Marseillaise”, the tri-color and the army are quite edifying in this regard.
Finally, in Spain the USSR has provided, with its weapons and its gold, so much power to the PSUC that the latter has become capable of crushing the power of the revolutionary anarchist and POUMist workers and reestablishing the rule of the democratic bourgeoisie.
The communist organizations, under the control of the USSR, are working today for the preparation of another imperialist butchery and will be the agents of the bourgeoisie for the denunciation and repression of revolutionary defeatists.
To conclude, we must first of all forever banish the expressions of an obsolete opposition, such as those that would tend to suggest that Stalin commits errors, that he is a bad defender of the conquests of the October Revolution and that his faults derive from his theory of “socialism in one country”. No, Stalin is carrying out the policies of a new class based on the exploitation of the workers; all that is left of the October Revolution in Russia has been transformed into a counterrevolutionary instrument. Its monopoly of foreign trade, its economic plans and industrialization are not bringing the USSR closer to socialism, but to modern capitalism, to fascism. The proletariat holds no more power in the USSR than the Chamber of Deputies in France or the corporations in Italy. The USSR has its place in the world among the imperialist states and pursues bloody counterrevolution everywhere. To fight for the defense of the USSR is to take a stand against the emancipation of the Russian proletariat, as well as to endorse the sacred union in every country.
In this article we have tried to situate the discussion of the USSR on a new terrain, one that is as free as possible of the prejudices and sacred formulas that have stifled Marxist understanding and debate for decades.
We do not want to adopt the errors that the Bolsheviks were impelled to commit due to an unfavorable international situation as dogmas or as guides for a future revolutionary period.
The international proletariat, and especially on the Russian battlefield, has been defeated: the forms assumed by the Russian defeat are, with regard to foreign policy, the diplomatic capitulations executed amidst economic turmoil; domestically, the dictatorial bureaucratic structure of the state in the hands of a political faction. The fact that the Stalinist bourgeoisie developed on the basis of this retreat from, and reconciliation with, imperialism is a historical phenomenon as normal as the development of capitalism on the basis of industrial progress.
The fact that the dictatorial regime created by Lenin’s faction, in the face of the imperialist offensive, was a consequence of the immaturity of the situation, and finally a victory for imperialism, can be clearly affirmed today; why then be surprised at the fact that this regime of absolutism has constituted precisely the foundation of the power of the new bourgeoisie?
To summarize, the Russian experience, so rich in lessons, must above all lead us to destroy the weeds that have grown in an unfavorable foreign and domestic situation; it must also incite us to know in advance that proletarian power requires a more mature situation, in countries where economic development has attained the levels required for socialist organization. What was lacking in the USSR of 1917 will be created by counterrevolutionary Stalinism, which will play the role of fascism in Italy and of modern capitalism in general.
Workers of the USSR, the time for reformism has passed in the Soviet Union as well as in all the other countries; now is the time for new revolutionary struggles. The battles of October 1917, like the Paris Commune, and like the bloody revolutionary struggles that have taken place in so many countries over the last few decades, have not yet attained their goal, but have awakened millions and millions of the workers throughout the world to class consciousness and have shown them the irresistible power the proletariat is capable of exercising. Workers of the USSR! The struggle of 1917 has been aborted, but the time is ripe for your socialist revolution and the organization of proletarian revolutionary power. Against your exploiters, against the imperialist war to which the Stalinist bourgeoisie is dragging you, prepare the proletarian insurrection!
Note: L’Union Communiste was a revolutionary organization—one of the very few—that existed between 1933 and 1939. It emerged from a split in the Trotskyist League and over the years attracted other opponents of Trotskyism, councilists, former Bordiguists, etc., as it evolved towards the positions of the German-Dutch Left.
Its journal was L’Internationale, first a newspaper, then later a magazine, and during its most prosperous times it was issued as a monthly. The particularly numerous articles about the Popular Front, Russia and the war in Spain still exhibit an enduring interest due to their denunciation of such capitalist mystifications as frontism, state capitalism christened as “socialist”, antifascism, democracy, etc.
All the issues of L’Internationale may be consulted at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The journal Jeune Taupe published by the group, Pour une Intervention Communiste (47, rue St. Honoré, 75001, Paris) has published and will continue to publish articles taken from L’Internationale and pamphlets written by L’Union Communiste.
V. Foreign Policy or Workers Solidarity - Simon Rubak
The state is the structural form of the nation; it must have, both with regard to foreign relations and domestically, a pro-national policy. In foreign affairs, if it does not pursue a pro-national policy, it will end up being absorbed by or subjected to one state or another; it is also destined to disappear if, domestically, it breaks apart. Nations contain distinct social categories. Among them, that of the industrial capitalists and that of the workers each belong to a social class that spans the entire world but is divided by state borders. The states are therefore compelled, at the risk of disappearance, to appeal to patriotism, nationalism or chauvinism to bind together, within their borders, the disparate social categories and, in particular, the antagonistic national sections of the class of industrial capitalists and the working class.
But national borders are not naturally suitable for capitalism because it is an economic system that requires “free circulation of goods” and the universality of exchange: the capitalists abolished the borders, tolls, and monetary incongruities of feudalism in the era of their rise and, in this age of supersonic aircraft, they are even less capable of supporting the monetary incongruities, tolls and borders of the states. For example, they do not leave the real control of the international movement of private capital in the hands of the states.
State structures do not really constitute an absolute necessity for the capitalist economic system, within which, at opposite poles, the employing class and the workers are situated; however, to the greatest extent and wherever possible, the capitalists and, especially, the most powerful capitalist groups, use the authority of the state for their economic interests by applying pressure on the policies of the government personnel in the halls of power. The latter preserve, in the relations of one state with another, certain sovereign powers, for example, with regard to protocol, official visits, cultural exchanges, diplomacy, military pacts or threats, and the declaration of war or the cessation of hostilities. But in each country, the most powerful capitalist groups use their influence in such a way as to see to it that their economic interests, which are otherwise so divergent, should have the highest priority. In this way they make deals in favor of the foreign policies of their respective governments, but they also make deals, on an international scale, among themselves, under private auspices, without government mediation. The capitalists thus maintain the international relations of their own social class, and therefore also that class’s cohesion, even though this leads to broken alliances, diplomatic breaks or armed conflicts.
For their part, the workers, due to the fact that they belong to a ruled class, one that is economically and socially subordinated in an inferior condition, does not have the possibility of engaging in this kind of foreign policy: it is not, we may be sure, by means of its influence in official institutions like the International Labor Office or some sub-committee of the UN, or by any such intermediaries that the international cohesion of the working class is obtained! And this cohesion can only be obtained to a minimal extent in view of the borders, the distances, the linguistic obstacles, by relations between the workers or between their rank and file organizations, relations that are often prohibited and in that case, partake of a terribly dangerous illegality. When the workers successfully organize it is, in the best cases, on a national level and they therefore lack the means to intervene in the game of foreign policy, this policy being understood as the policy of their own country. This is true, above all, due to a lack of information. Diplomatic communications, however minimal their real importance—when they have any at all!—are secret or confidential; the public is only given vague and indeterminate information, but sensational news is broadcast when it is necessary to agitate public opinion for unstated purposes. In the foreign policy of the states, the workers have no role at all, not even a mass to be manipulated, or deceived, except in very exceptional circumstances, in critical historical situations; the rest of the time, they are neither consulted nor informed.
It must be admitted that if the information they are provided with was complete it would not be any more clear: in every one of the approximately one hundred twenty or one hundred thirty states on the planet, there is a ministry of Foreign Affairs where the politicians and officials are in constant or intermittent communication with their counterparts in every other state with regard to every kind of question, territorial, military, maritime, commercial, prestige…. And the political and administrative personnel of each state see their counterparts in the other states as rivals, enemies, allies, and engage in efforts to try to form or to destroy coalitions and carry out, domestically as well as on the foreign front, disparate, divergent, convergent or opposed pressure tactics.
In this completely tangled web, any “general line” that seems to emerge remains in the domain of the hypothesis, all prediction is hazardous, and those who are “in charge” consult fortune tellers, since those who professionally hold one end of a series of threads of intrigue never know for sure where those threads lead, nor do they know at what point or when they will break. When inextricable knots are found, the experts, not knowing how to untie them, exert pressure to transfer the responsibility for their results to public opinion’s simplistic reactions. These experts otherwise have a curiously allegorical and anthropomorphic view of states and international events, a view that can only be expressed in terms whose literal meaning is absurd. And they really begin to think that, as they say, “China” can “awake from its long sleep”, and that “Moscow” can “view a rapprochement between Washington and Peking with jaundiced eyes”, that, “for the Quai d’Orsay”, “France must have a presence in the Indian Ocean”, that “Germany has helped Italy to recover”, that “America is increasing its pressure on Latin America”, etc., etc. This language, which imposes a mythological mode of thought on anyone who is interested in international policy, is not entirely innocent: very often it leads to horrible mishaps, but above all it leads to the identification of territories and their inhabitants with the states and their leaders, and therefore leads to the implication that populations that are naturally or artificially grouped into nations are committed to the game and the machinations of their leaders—who are themselves manipulated by all kinds of “influences” and “pressures”. Each one of these populations is presented as a monolithic bloc, so that often it is not possible to distinguish within them the diversity of people and social categories, much less the antagonism within them of sections of the capitalist class and the working class. It is a fraud.
To take part, in one way or another, in foreign policy, is inevitably to blindly take a stance, without complete veracious information, for or against a state, or states or groups of states; it is, in the same frame of reference, to accept the integration, in the national amalgam, of all kinds of social categories and, among these categories, the antagonistic sections of the industrial capitalist class and the working class. When the workers accept this integration, this union of classes in the nation, they lose all at once any consciousness of their international nature that nonetheless constitutes, due to their numbers and their role in production, the power of the exploited workers. From that moment they are only one part of the manipulable masses for the “influenced” foreign policies of the states, policies of which they have made themselves the executors, fools and victims. And at the same time that they betray their class by abandoning internationalism, they pay for this treason with their blood, as on August 2, 1914.
It is hard to imagine, for the national sections of the working class, a “foreign policy” more imperative than the coordination of its struggles against the world capitalist class on an international scale. What victory can it possibly hope for, if, given the geographic distribution of the industries on the planet, the working class does not practice international solidarity by means of concerted, concrete and effective activities? Nationalism incorporates the workers into the foreign policy of the state; internationalism frees them of this state policy in the sense that they reject, that is, totally refuse to express any interest in this devious game, to play by its rules, to be its plaything and its wager.
Spontaneously, populations lose interest during times of peace in “foreign affairs”, a tangled web about which most people admit they understand nothing; in which respect they prove themselves to be at least as intelligent as those who claim to see through them; in any case, such a view is honest and healthy. Unfortunately, this completely passive indifference represents not so much a real rejection than a temporary renunciation: from the moment when a tense situation arises with respect to “the foreigner” and the state to which he belongs, people become concerned, and are therefore amenable to being invited to play the game and become its pawns. Those workers, on the other hand, who are conscious of their international dimension, cannot be, nor can they ever become, foreigners to each other. Indifference with regard to foreign policy then acquires the nature of a formal rejection, of a negation of nationalism by means of an affirmation of workers internationalism.
It is true that this indifference frees the hands of the governments that are necessarily very concerned with informing the population due to their fear that the latter might meddle in their affairs and interfere with their intrigues. But no one has ever been able to prevent them from engaging in their intrigues nor is it ever of any use to hinder them when it suffices to prevent their effects in order to render them useless. If, in foreign policy, the deals whose purposes are, most often, derisory, are once again bestowed a terrible importance, it is only because entire populations accept and execute decisions made by the politicians and officials of their respective states, in the wake of negotiations carried out strictly between those politicians and officials. Without the nationalist support of the people, the manipulations of foreign policy would be as futile as those of the strategists of the Café de Comercio.
The international political situation, at least if we consider it in the light of an apparently realistic description in the allegorical and anthropomorphic style of the specialists,—and here the iconoclast will present an image!—can be compared to a kind of chess game with one hundred thirty players who do not all have the same pieces, in which every piece that is lost leads to disaster, misery, and the suffering or deaths of a multitude of people. How can these people escape their fate? Certainly not by getting involved in the game, so that they help the players, but instead by knocking the board to the ground in order to prevent the playing of such a monstrous game. Do they not say, “only one solution, the revolution”? The only really effective foreign policy of the workers of every country that can lead to this solution is none other than the international coordination of their forces, in a spiritual condition of internationalist solidarity, in a class struggle that essentially progresses, whether you like it or not, on a world scale.
VI. “The Russian Tragedy: The Capitulation of Brest-Litovsk”
Since the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russian Revolution has entered into a very difficult phase. The policy which has guided the Bolsheviks’ action is obvious: peace at any price in order to gain a respite, during which they can expand and consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, and realize as many socialist reforms as possible. They plan in this way to await the outbreak of the international proletariat revolution and at the same time to expedite it by the Russian example. Since the utter war-weariness of the Russian masses and the simultaneous military disorganization bequeathed by Tsarism appeared in any case to make the continuation of the war a futile shedding of Russian blood, there was no other way out but to conclude peace as quickly as possible. This is how Lenin and his comrades assessed the situation.
Their decision was dictated by two revolutionary viewpoints: by the unshakable faith in the European revolution of the proletariat as the sole way out and the inevitable consequence of the world war, and by their equally unshakable resolve to defend by any means possible the power they had gained in Russia, in order to use it for the most energetic and radical changes.
And yet these calculations largely overlooked the most crucial factor, namely German militarism, to which Russia surrendered unconditionally through the separate peace. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was in reality nothing but the capitulation of the revolutionary Russian proletariat to German militarism. Admittedly Lenin and his friends deluded neither themselves no other about the facts. They candidly admitted their capitulation. Unfortunately, they did deceive themselves in hoping to purchase a genuine respite at the price of this capitulation, to enable them to save themselves from the hellfire of the world war by means of a separate peace. They did no take into account the fact that the capitulation of Russia at Brest-Litovsk meant an enormous strengthening of the imperialist Pan-German policy and thus a lessening of the chances for a revolutionary rising in Germany. Nor did they see that this capitulation would bring about not the end of the war against Germany, but merely the beginning of a new chapter of this war.
In fact the ‘peace’ of Brest-Litovsk is an illusion. Not for a moment was there peace between Russia and Germany. War has continued since Brest-Litovsk up to the present time, but the war is a unique one, waged only by one side: systematic German advance and tacit Bolshevik retreat, step by step. Occupation of the Ukraine, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, the Crimea, the Caucasus, larger and larger tracts of the southern Russia – this is the result of the ‘state of peace’ since Brest-Litovsk.
And this has meant a number of things. In the first place, the strangulation of the revolution and the victory of the counter-revolution in the revolutionary strongholds of Russia. For Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Black Sea region – this is all Russia, namely the terrain of the Russian Revolution, no matter what the empty, petit-bourgeois phrase-mongers may babble about the ‘right of national self-determination’.
Secondly, this means the isolation of the Great Russian part of the revolutionary terrain from the grain-growing and coal-mining region and from the sources of iron-ore and naphtha, that is, from the most important and vital economic resources of the revolution.
Thirdly, the encouragement and strengthening of all counter-revolutionary elements within Russia, thus enabling them to offer the strongest resistance to the Bolsheviks and their measures.
Fourthly, Germany will play the role of arbiter in Russia’s political and economic relation with all of its own provinces: Finland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and the Caucasus, as well as with the neighbors, for example Rumania.
The overall result of this unrestricted and unlimited German power over Russia was naturally an enormous strengthening of German imperialism both internally and externally, and thereby of course a heightening of the white-hot resistance and war-readiness of the Entente powers, i.e. prolongation and intensification of the world war. And indeed there is more: Russia’s defencelessness, as revealed by the progressive German occupation, must naturally tempt the Entente and Japan to instigate a counter-action on Russian territory in order to combat Germany’s huge predominance and at the same time to satisfy their imperialist appetites at the expense of the defenceless colossus. Now the north and east of European Russia, as well as the whole of Siberia, are cut off, and the Bolsheviks are isolated form their last sources of essential supplies.
The end result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is thus to encircle, starve out and strangle the Russian revolution from all sides.
But also within the country, in the terrain that the Germans did leave to the Bolsheviks, the power and the policies of the revolution were forced into difficult straits. The assassinations of Mirbach and Eichhorn are a tangible response to the reign of terror of German imperialism in Russia. Social Democracy, to be sure, has always rejected terror as an individual act, but only because it considered the mass struggle to be the more effective method, not because it preferred to tolerate passively reactionary despotism. It is of course only one of the W.T.B’s [Wolff’s Telegraphic Bureau’s] many falsifications that says the Left-wing Social Revolutionaries carried out these assassinations at the instigation or on the orders of the Entente. These assassinations were intended either as a signal for a mass uprising against German rule or they were only impulsive acts of revenge born of despair and hatred of the bloody German rule. However, whatever their intention, they gravely endangered the cause of the revolution in Russia by creating divisions within the hitherto ruling socialist groups. They drove a wedge between the Bolsheviks and the Left-wing Social Revolutionaries; indeed, they created an abyss and a mortal enmity between the two wings of the revolutionary army.
Admittedly the social differences – the antithesis between the property-owning peasantry and the peasant-proletariat and others – would sooner or later have created a split between the Bolsheviks and the Left-wing Social Revolutionaries. Until the Mirbach assassination, however, events did not appear to have progressed so far. In any case, it is a fact that the Left-wing Social Revolutionaries lent their support to the Bolsheviks. The October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to the helm, the breaking up of the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks’ reform until now, would have hardly been possible without the co-operation of the Left-wing Social Revolutionaries. Only Brest-Litovsk and its after-effects drove the wedge between the two wings. Now German imperialism appears as the arbiter between the Bolsheviks an their revolutionary allies of yesterday, just as it is the arbiter of their (the Bolsheviks’) relations with the Russian border provinces and their neighbouring states. Because of this, the resistance to the Bolsheviks’ rule and reform measures, huge in any case, will increase. Because of this, it is clear that the basis upon which their rule rests has been significantly diminished. Probably this internal falling-out and division of the heterogeneous elements of the revolution was inevitable, just as it is inevitable in the progressive radicalization of every developing revolution. Now, however, a controversy over the brutal German military dictatorship as in fact entered into the Russian Revolution. German imperialism is the thorn in the flesh of the Russian Revolution.
Yet this is not the full extent of the danger! The iron circle of the world war, which seemed to have been broken in the east, is once again relentlessly encompassing the whole world: the Entente is advancing with Czech and Japanese troops from the north and east as a natural, inevitable consequence of Germany’s offensive from the west and south. The flames of the world war are leaping across Russian soil and at any moment may engulf the Russian Revolution. To withdraw from the world war – even at the price of the greatest sacrifices – is something which, at the final analysis, it is simply impossible for Russia to do.
And now the most terrible prospect looms ahead of the Bolsheviks, the final stage of their path and thorns – an alliance between the Bolsheviks and Germany! This, to be sure, would forge the final link in that disastrous chain which the world war has hung around the neck of the Russian Revolution: first retreat, then capitulation and finally an alliance with German imperialism. In this way the Russian Revolution would be dragged by the world war, from which it sought to withdraw at any price, over to the opposite camp – from the side of the Entente while under the Tsar to German side under the Bolsheviks.
It is to the everlasting credit of the Russian revolutionary proletariat that its first gesture following the outbreak of the revolution was a refusal to continue to fight as a levies of Franco-English imperialism. In view of the international situation, however, to render military service to German imperialism is even worse.
Trotsky is supposed to have said that if Russia had to choose between Japanese and German occupation, she would choose the latter, since Germany was far more ripe from revolution than Japan. The agonizing aspect of this speculation is obvious. For Japan is not Germany’s only opponent; so, too, are England and France, and of these no one is able to say whether or not their internal situations are more favourable than Germany’s to the proletarian revolution.
Trotsky’s reasoning is completely wrong, however, since the prospects and possibilities of a revolution in Germany are dimmed each time German militarism is strengthened or gains a victory.
But then other considerations, quite different from these apparently realistic ones, must be taken into account. An alliance between the Bolsheviks and German imperialism would be the most terrible moral blow that could be delivered against international socialism. Russia was the one last corner where revolutionary socialism, purity of principle an ideals, still held away. It was a place to which all sincere socialist elements in Germany and Europe could look in order to find relief from the disgust they felt at the practice of the West European labor movement, in order to arm themselves with the courage to persevere and in faith in pure actions and sacred words. The grotesque ‘coupling’ of Lenin and Hindenburg would extinguish the source of moral light in the east. It is obvious that the German rulers are holding a gun to the Soviet government’s head and are exploiting its desperate situation in order to force this monstrous alliance upon it. But we hope that Lenin and his friends do not surrender a any price and that they answer this unreasonable demand with a categorical: ‘This far but no further!’
A socialist revolution supported by German bayonets, the dictatorship of the proletariat under the patronage of German imperialism – this would be the most monstrous event that we could hope to witness. And what is more, it would be pure utopianism. Quite apart from the fact that the moral prestige of the Bolsheviks would be destroyed in the country, they would lose all freedom of movement and independence even in domestic policy, and within a very shirt time would disappear from the scene altogether. Any child can see that Germany is only waiting for an opportunity of combining with a Milyukov, a Hetman or God knows what other obscure gentleman and political dabblers, to put an end to the Bolshevik splendor. They await merely an opportunity for casting Lenin and comrades (as they cast the Ukrainians, the Lybinskys and the rest) in the role of Trojan horse, a role which, when played out, means suicide for the actors.
If this were to be happen, all the sacrifices until now, including the great sacrifice of Brest-Litovsk, would have been totally in vain, for the price of the sacrifice would ultimately be moral bankruptcy. Any political destruction of the Bolsheviks in a honest struggle against the overwhelming forces and hostile pressures of the historical situation would be preferable to the moral destruction.
The Bolsheviks have certainly made a number of mistakes in their policies and are perhaps still making them – but where is the revolution in which no mistakes have been made! The notion of a revolutionary policy without mistakes, and moreover, in a totally unprecedented situation, is so absurd that it is worthy only of a German schoolmaster. If the so-called leaders of German socialism lose their so-called heads in such an unusual situation as a vote in the Reichstag, and if their hearts sink into their boots and they forget all the socialism they ever learned in situation in which the simple abc of socialism clearly pointed the way – could one expect a party caught up in a truly thorny situation, in which it would show the world new wonders, not to make mistakes?
The awkward position that the Bolsheviks are in today, however, is, together with most of their mistakes, a consequence of basic insolubility of the problem posed to them by he international, above all the German, proletariat. To carry out the dictatorship of the proletariat and a socialist revolution in a single country surrounded by reactionary imperialist rule and in the fury of the bloodiest world war in human history – that is squaring the circle. Any socialist party would have to fail in this task and perish – whether or not it made self-renunciation the guiding star of its policies.
We would like to see the spineless jelly-fish, the moaners, the Axelrods, Dans, Grigoryans or whatever their names are, who, mouths frothing, sing their plaintive song against the Bolsheviks in foreign lands. And – just look! – they have found a sympathetic ear in such heroes as Ströbel, Bernstein and Kautsky; we would like to see these Germans in the Bolsheviks’ place! All their superior understanding would rapidly exhaust itself in an alliance with the Milyukovs in domestic policy and with the Entente in foreign policy; to this would be added a conscious renunciation of all socialist reforms, or even of any move in this direction, in domestic policy – all this due to the conscious eunuch wisdom that says Russia is an agricultural country and Russian capitalism is not adequately cooked.
Such is the false logic of the objective situation: any socialist party that came to power in Russia today must pursue the wrong tactics so long as it, as part of the international proletarian army, is left in the lurch by the main body of this army.
The blame of the Bolsheviks’ failures is borne in the final analysis by the international proletariat and above all by the unprecedented and persistent baseness of German Social Democracy. This party which in peace-time pretended to march at the head of the world proletariat, which presumed to advise and lead the whole world, which in its own country counted at least ten million supporters of both sexes – this is the party which has nailed socialism to the cross twenty-four hours a day for the four years at the bidding of the ruling class like venal mercenaries of the Middle Ages.
The news now arriving from Russia about the situation of the Bolsheviks is a moving appeal to what vestiges of honour remain in the masses of German workers and soldiers. They have cold-bloodedly left the Russian Revolution to be torn to pieces, encircled and starve out. Let them now intervene, even at the eleventh hour, to save the revolution from the most terrible fate: from moral suicide, from an alliance with German imperialism.
There is only one solution to the tragedy in which Russia in caught up: an uprising at the rear of German imperialism, the German mass rising, which can signal the international revolution to put an end to this genocide. At this fateful moment, preserving the honour of the Russian Revolution is identical with vindicating that of the German proletariat and of international socialists.
(Rosa Luxemburg, Spartacus, No. 11, September 1918; online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/09/11.htm)
- 1Eberlein had been issued an imperative mandate to vote against an immediate founding of the Third International by the Central Committee of the German Communist Party, and according to Ernst Meyr, he was even under an obligation to leave the conference should the objections of the KPD be rejected. It must be recalled that Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogisches, based on their Polish experiences, had no faith in the hegemonic pretensions of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Rosa Luxemburg was also perfectly aware, in the wake of the isolation of the Russian revolution after Brest-Litovsk, of the deformations suffered by the Soviet power and was apprehensive, as long as the international movement had not led to the victory of the proletariat in other countries, or at least to the formation of real communist organizations in other countries, concerning the possibility that the new International would become a feudal preserve of the Bolsheviks and would be transformed into a simple instrument for the defense of the Russian State. Eberlein, whose speech as set forth above falls far short of expressing the whole content of Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis and fears, reneged on his mandate and contented himself with abstaining from the vote on the foundation of the Third International.
- 2A conference convoked by groups such as the British Labor Party and the German Independent Social Democrats (USPD), which had taken place in Berne in December 1918, whose purpose was to resuscitate the Second International.
- 3Jean Longuet, the nephew of Karl Marx, and a member of the French Socialist Party, approved of the attempts to reestablish the Second International. Viewed by the Bolsheviks as the very model of a yellow social democrat, his exclusion would be the object of a special request made by Zinoview by telegram to the 1920 Tours Congress of the French Socialist Party. With the founding of the French Communist Party that resulted from that Congress, Longuet would join Blum and the minority fraction.
- 4Christian Rakovski was considered to represent the Balkan social democratic federation that was proclaimed in 1915, but this federation barely had any real existence in March 1919. In fact, his activity in Russia after May 1917 led to his becoming a high level member of the Bolshevik Party and his proposal in favor of the immediate foundation of the Third International at the third session of the Congress played a decisive role in overcoming the hesitations aroused by Eberlein’s dissenting position.
- 5It would have been interesting to publish a more extensive excerpt from Osinski’s article, or even the entire article. But since our translation is based on a Spanish translation, which was in turn translated from the German (See Democracia de Trabajadores or Dictadura de Partido, Zero, pp. 81-83), we have preferred instead to limit the risks of misinterpreting the ideas expressed in this article.
Furthermore, in the continuation of the passage quoted above, Osinski engages in a polemic with Lenin that is based essentially on the point of view of the Russian economy. And the critiques he articulates do not make the direct connection, as does the passage quoted above, between the roots of Lenin’s policies and the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Even though many of his points are correct, they lead to proposals that express all of the illusions of the left communists concerning integral nationalization and workers control from below that we have already discussed above.