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.