Marxism and Democracy by Lucien Laurat 1940

Chapter III: The Ordeal by Fire

The events which burst upon the world in 1914 and let loose a constant stream of catastrophes make it seem desirable to undertake a serious examination of Marxist doctrine in their light. Certain facts seem to confirm this doctrine, whilst others seem to refute it. The war itself was at one and the same time a most striking confirmation of what Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg and Rudolf Hilferding [1] had predicted with regard to the general tendencies of capitalist development, and the complete wreck of all the hopes which had been placed in the power of the international working-class movement to resist the outbreak of war successfully.

The tremendous crisis which shook the world in 1929, and whose effects could still be felt in 1939, was another striking confirmation of the Marxist theory, though its political repercussions seemed to be a refutation of that theory, seeing that this great economic catastrophe, whilst annihilating all the ‘anti-catastrophic’ arguments of Bernstein, gave rise in various countries to mass movements which, far from carrying Socialism to power, buried it in prisons and concentration camps. In Russia self-styled ‘Marxists’ are in power and have undertaken ‘the establishment of Socialism over one-sixth of the globe’. However, the triumph of this ‘Socialism’ has for the past 20 years reconciled itself, oddly enough, with the basest persecution of all the authentic Socialists belonging to the working-class International, and even since 1924, of all the surviving leaders of the November Revolution of 1917.

All these contradictions do not exactly facilitate an examination of Marxist theory, and every event presents us with a series of pros and cons. We have the choice between two methods: to take the events one by one and to examine whether they do or do not confirm the views of Marx and of his followers; or to take the fundamental principles of Marxism one by one and examine whether what has happened since 1914 confirms or refutes them. We are in favour of the first method, which has the advantage of following the chronological order of events, which we should be obliged in any case to recapitulate, if only summarily. However, we propose to make an exception with regard to the economic theories of Marxism, but we shall examine them only briefly, because it is obviously becoming more and more difficult to deny them, and it seems idle to us to attempt to burst in open doors.

I: The Unquestionable Triumph of Marxist Economic Doctrine

We have two things to examine here: the laws of capitalist economy, and its tendencies. [2]

The development of capital towards a higher and higher organic composition (or, in other words, the growth of constant capital as compared with variable capital) is demonstrated today by all available statistics. Technological unemployment is a fact which no one can any longer deny. [3] In the United States between 1921 and 1929 the authorities even registered a decline in the absolute numbers of the working class as a result of technical progress.

The decrease in variable capital in relation to surplus-value (fall in relative wages) is also confirmed by the facts. At the end of the first volume of his Apogee of Capitalism, Werner Sombart establishes this by statistics reaching from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. [4] We have already seen that the fall in relative wages is modified by contrary tendencies, [5] but there is reason to believe that these tendencies have been less operative since the World War, as indicated by the following figures for the non-extractive industries of the United States: [6]

Wage Percentage in the New Values Created


With regard to the tendency for a fall in the rate of profit, that fall has long since ceased to be a tendency, and now operates in an absolute fashion. The Marxist theory of crises is the only theory which can boast that it has been confirmed by the facts in an epoch when the upholders of all other theories have been compelled to confess the inanity of their doctrines. [7] We do not propose to dwell any further on this point, because all supplementary demonstration would really be futile.

The concentration and centralisation of capital have also been confirmed by facts. In all countries there are abundant statistics to support this point. The economic system is developing more and more towards increasingly collective forms, towards a centralisation exceeding anything that could have been imagined even less than 10 years ago, and out of which regulating organs, ‘control levers’, develop and consolidate themselves. [8] It may be objected that Marx did not foresee all the forms of this process. Agreed; but he did foresee the essential forms, including joint-stock companies and capitalist monopolies. [9] Let us refer those who claim that Marx knew nothing about all this to his Capital, and we may also add before we leave this subject that in his Finance Capital, Rudolf Hilferding considerably develops Marx’s theory. It is also objected that the concentration of capital is taking place only in industry and commerce (the small businessman could say a lot on this point), and that agriculture has been left untouched by the process. In reply to that objection two observations will suffice, the one for the content and the other for the form. Marx’s theory is founded on the hypothesis of free competition, and where this free competition no longer exists, the development he predicted is naturally blocked or turned from its course.

Let us suppose for a moment that European agriculture were deprived of the protective barriers which defend it against overseas competition: would not the centralisation of agriculture then take place in the twinkling of an eye — and to the accompaniment of what convulsions! — as the result of the enormously superior competitive power of American agriculture? So much for the content. As to the form, Karl Kautsky pointed out 40 years ago, in the course of a detailed study, by what varied methods and under what multifarious forms capital was capturing agriculture in such a way that small-scale agriculture would not necessarily disappear and give way to large-scale agriculture. [10]

Faced with an increasingly centralised capitalism, the numbers of the proletariat must, according to Marx, increase and concentrate. In this case also, Marx’s predictions have unquestionably been confirmed. Henri de Man objects, it is true, that the number of manual labourers has been on the decrease for between 15 and 20 years, and that the number of clerical employees, of foremen, and of administrative personnel in general, has in the meantime increased. This objection is worth taking into consideration, but it in no way invalidates the economic predictions of Marx. For Marx a proletarian is a man who does not possess tools of production, and who in consequence is compelled to sell his labour-power in order to live. The clerical employee is just as much a proletarian as the manual worker, and today it is a commonplace to speak of the widespread proletarianisation which has taken place since the end of the World War. The economic predictions of Marx have thus been confirmed by the facts. On the other hand, the more rapid numerical increase of clerical employees as compared with manual workers is a social phenomenon which neither confirms nor refutes the Marxist theory, because Marx never at any time made any definite prophecy with regard to the proportions which might exist between the different categories of the wage-working classes. It is a new social phenomenon which contemporary Marxism must interpret satisfactorily.

With regard to the intensification of the inherent contradictions of the capitalist regime predicted by Marx, we must be excused for being brief, because since 1929 reality has amassed a weight of evidence in this respect as convincing as it is painful. No one any longer dares to deny the existence of these contradictions, and the privileged classes themselves are so well aware of them that they seek more and more to stifle the facts by a dictatorship destructive of liberty of thought and freedom of conscience. It has been left in our day to a number of muddle-headed ‘reformers’ or ‘revolutionaries’ to discover that in the last resort it is not the contradictions of the regime which are to blame, but — money.

After this rapid glance, all that remains to be done is to underline certain particular aspects of the problem. Henry Ford promised us a new heaven and a new earth with his ‘theory of high wages’, and he even found followers in Europe. This theory was intended at one and the same time to resolve all capitalist contradictions, do away with crises, and annihilate Marxism. The German Marxist Jakob Walcher [11] refuted this theory as early as 1925, but, favoured by a period of economic prosperity (a very relative one only, by the way), it experienced a certain amount of success for some years, a success repeated at the beginning of the present crisis, and it did a certain amount of damage even in the ranks of the working-class movement, where it was imagined that the raising of wages as an isolated measure might be a means of countering the crisis. However, this phase has since passed, and working-class organisations, both economic and political, are turning more and more resolutely towards those reforms which attack the very structure of capitalism.

And, finally, since 1929 we more and more frequently find arguments on the expansion of capital, on world competition, on trustification, and on credit, in the daily press and in theoretical reviews by no means Marxist, to which any Marxist might subscribe with a light heart. Unfortunately the authors of these studies are for the most part ignorant of the fact that the ideas they consider so original are in fact of pure Marxist origin. A perusal of certain chapters of The Erfürter Programme of Karl Kautsky, [12] Finance Capital by Rudolf Hilferding, and The Accumulation of Capital, by Rosa Luxemburg, would quickly convince them.

On the economic field the controversies between Marxism and its adversaries can be considered as closed. Capitalism has developed in the direction prophesied by Marx and his followers. The objections advanced 40 years ago by Bernstein have been refuted by the facts. Trustification and credit, far from diminishing capitalist contradictions, have driven them to extremes, as Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg insisted that they would to Bernstein at the time. The process of ‘socialisation’ proceeding in the capitalist economic system gives the capitalist structure more and more Socialist forms, but that collectivisation in form, far from diminishing the antagonism between labour and capital, renders it, on the contrary, more acute than ever.

The hopes which Bernstein placed in the development of the joint-stock company, which seemed to ‘promise the democratisation of fortunes’, have vanished. The economic catastrophes which we have been experiencing for the last 20 years have proved, on the contrary, that the mass of the shareholders have been robbed and expropriated by a new oligarchy, whose advent Marx himself predicted in his Capital. Any objective examination on this point will inevitably confirm the Marxist theory. Let us quote the latest of these confirmations which comes from a research group comprising men of all social classes, striving in such measure as is permitted by human imperfection to make an impartial study of the great problems of our epoch without doctrinal prejudices. We read there:

Generalisation, democratisation of property, such seems to have been originally the essential object of the joint-stock company. Since then, this original conception has been signally diverted from its real aim... We can say today that the actual state of the joint-stock companies does not, in fact, any longer assure the reality of their property rights to the shareholders... The development of the joint-stock companies has arrived at this paradoxical consequence that, far from favouring the diffusion of property, it gives rise to an exaggerated concentration of property rights... [13]

We cannot resist the temptation to compare certain passages of this study, which might be quoted in its entirety, with certain passages of Marx’s Capital. We shall see that the only difference is one of terminology.

Nouveau Cahiers:

Closely bound up with the whole of the modern economic system, the joint-stock company is in large measure responsible for its development and its present embarrassments... An increasingly important immobilisation... the uncontrolled increase in the means of production... disastrous crises which spread ruin throughout the modern world.

Marx’s Capital:

Hence the credit system accelerates the material development of the forces of production... At the same time credit accelerates the violent eruptions... the crises, and thereby the development of the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production. [14]

Nouveau Cahiers:

Large companies are controlled by boards of directors who hold only an insignificant number of shares, and who recruit themselves by coopting new members from amongst their families or friends. The maintenance of this power, which rests on founder’s right only, is the constant preoccupation of certain directors of joint-stock companies... The interest of the shareholders is of secondary importance, the principal thing being the importance and prestige of the company...

Marx’s Capital:

It reproduces a new aristocracy of finance, a new sort of parasite in the shape of promoters, speculators and merely nominal directors... It is private production without the control of private property... Since property here exists in the form of shares, of stock, its movement and transfer become purely a result of gambling at the stock exchange, where the little fish are swallowed by the sharks... Thus we observe that a few individuals are able to appropriate social property. [15]

Nouveau Cahiers:

In certain cases, French Law..., [16] without taking due precaution or demanding sufficient guarantees, encourages unscrupulous businessmen to launch out on risky enterprises with capital too easily obtained, capital which does not belong to them personally and for which they are not responsible, and then to develop their means of production or action irresponsibly.

Marx’s Capital:

... credit offers to the individual capitalist... absolute command of the capital of others and the property of others, within certain limits, and thereby of the labour of others... What the speculating wholesale merchant risks is social property, not his own... Both success and failure lead now simultaneously to a centralisation of capital, and thus to an expropriation on the most enormous scale... credit gives to these few more and more the character of pure adventurers. [17]

The difference between the two texts is slight, even in the terminology. The only really appreciable difference lies in the respective dates at which they were written. The study published in the Nouveau Cahiers is quite recent, whereas that of Marx is between 60 and 70 years old.

And yet, if we are to believe certain Marx-slayers, Marx knew nothing whatever about credit in general or its particular form in the joint-stock company!

II: The World War

Even today, more than a quarter of a century after the outbreak of the World War, the powerlessness of the workers’ International in face of that war is still the subject of fierce dispute. No one, no matter to what group he belongs, will deny that the World War represented a terrible defeat for international Socialism. However, opinions differ widely not only with regard to the cause of that defeat but even with regard to what exactly represented that defeat. Did the defeat lie in the fact that the International was unable to prevent war, or did it lie in the triumph of chauvinism throughout the working classes? Or did it lie in the ‘treason’ of a certain number of leaders, an explanation much favoured by simpletons?

This last solution has, of course, nothing whatever to do with Marxism. Without denying the important role in history played by great personalities, Marxism refuses to explain great historical happenings by the genius or the defects of individuals. At the beginning of the first chapter of his Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, [18] Friedrich Engels writes as follows concerning the defeat of the revolution in 1848:

... but when you inquire into the causes of the counter-revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready reply that it was Mr This or Citizen That who ‘betrayed’ the people. Which reply may be very true, or not, according to circumstances, but under no circumstances does it explain anything — or even show how it came to pass that the ‘people’ allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what a poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock-in-trade consists in a knowledge of the solitary fact that Citizen So and So is not to be trusted!

It is quite certain that during the World War there were cases of treason — for instance, no other word could be used to describe the attitude of a Noske, whose speeches in the Reichstag covered German Social-Democracy with shame. In refusing the right of self-determination to the population of Alsace-Lorraine, the Majority Socialists in Germany treated elementary Socialist principles with contempt. [19] However, such cases of individual treason cannot explain the defeat of the Socialist International in 1914.

Most of those who explain everything by ‘treason’ reproach the Socialist parties in the belligerent countries with not having ‘proclaimed’ a general strike against war, [20] and with having refused to make ‘defeatism’ the guiding principle of their actions. In this respect it is pertinent to observe that the Socialist parties never at any time undertook to answer a declaration of war by proclaiming a general strike, or to practise a policy of defeatism during a war should one break out. [21] We do not propose to inquire for the moment whether they were right or wrong in refusing to assume such responsibility. We merely register the fact. The Socialist parties were not guilty of treason. The resolutions of the International did not impose the duty of launching a general strike against war upon them, or of adopting a defeatist policy during the war, or even the abandonment of the idea of national defence. [22]

Even supposing the existence of such recommendations or injunctions, it would still be wrong to speak of the treason ‘of certain leaders’. All those who lived through the terrible days of July and August 1914 know that the working people as a whole and in all countries were obsessed by the fear of imminent invasion and quite ready to take up arms against the invader. Karl Liebknecht himself admitted it. And if in spite of all this the word ‘treason’ must be used, then we must say that the working class betrayed itself. However, in that case the word ‘treason’ loses the significance normally attached to it.

It is also said that by their attitude during the war, Socialist parties abandoned Marxism, but the general strike against war, defeatism, and the rejection of the idea of national defence find no place as recommendations in the writings of Marx and Engels. It is, of course, quite possible to accept these ideas, but those who proclaim them so enthusiastically have no right to style themselves ‘the only authentic followers of Karl Marx’, and still less right to condemn those Socialists who reject them as ‘traitors to Marxism’.

The attitude of Marx and Engels towards the wars of their day (at a time when the proletariat was intellectually undeveloped and numerically weak, almost without organisation and entirely without parliamentary representation) was dictated above all by the desire to assure the triumph of the bourgeois revolution where national-revolutionary wars were concerned, and in general to assure the victory of the more advanced country over the less advanced. Their chief aim in this was to further the general interests of the Socialist movement, whose development demanded the expansion of the capitalist mode of production and the establishment of a democratic regime.

Since the end of the nineteenth century the problem of war has changed its form. The era of national-revolutionary wars is definitely at an end, at least in Europe. Even in Eastern Europe, whether in the case of the Russian Empire or the Balkan–Danubian region, the national aspirations of the oppressed minorities have become nothing but valuable tools in the hands of neighbouring imperialisms. In consequence, a revolutionary war begun by one of these oppressed nationalities for its freedom would run the risk of losing its main objective, in itself progressive, and plunging the whole of Europe into a disastrous war, which in the last resort would lead not to national liberation but to the triumph of one or the other of the conflicting imperialisms.

It was this situation which caused Rosa Luxemburg to write in her Crisis of Social-Democracy (1915) that in the epoch of imperialism, ‘there can no longer be national wars’, [23] an observation which gave rise to vigorous protest on the part of Lenin. [24] Whilst Rosa Luxemburg goes to the length of rejecting the right of self-determination in the epoch of imperialism, even denying the right in the event of a victorious proletarian revolution, [25] Lenin, on the contrary, is in favour of national revolutions, whose drive, he contends, would accelerate the dynamism of the proletarian revolution. However, once this drive has done its work, Bolshevism refuses in practice what it promised in theory to national aspirations, as we can see, in particular, in the case of Georgia. [26]

Neither the conclusions of Rosa Luxemburg nor those of Lenin seem to us to be acceptable. The right of self-determination is an integral part of democracy. Democratic Socialism dare not repudiate it without denying itself. But there is a great difference between accepting this principle, and lending active support to any national war whatever under the pretext that it would serve the cause of the proletarian revolution. [27] That would be playing with fire at a time when such wars, however localised they may be in origin, might easily set fire to the whole of Europe. The events of 1912 in the Balkans proved this to the hilt.

Technical progress has enormously increased the destructive power of the engines of war, and has been the greatest single factor modifying the Socialist attitude towards war. In Marx’s day the progress resulting from a revolutionary war still outweighed the destruction and loss it caused, but for the past half-century the massacre and destruction attendant on war have threatened to obliterate all progress. Friedrich Engels was quick to realise this. Writing to Bernstein in 1882, one year before the death of Marx, he deals with the insurrection in Dalmatia as follows:

We have to work for the emancipation of the proletariat of Western Europe, and we must subordinate everything else to that aim. However worthy of interest the Balkan states and their affairs may be in themselves, they mean nothing to me when their national aspirations come into conflict with the interests of the proletariat. The Alsatians are also oppressed... but if on the eve of an imminent revolution they wanted to provoke a war between France and Germany, again setting these two nations at each other’s throats, and thus staving off the revolution, I should cry: ‘Halt! You can exercise as much patience as the European proletariat. When the workers of Europe are free, you will be free too, but until that time we shall not permit you to thwart the struggle of the working class.’ [28]

Ten years later, in an article published in the Almanach du Parti Ouvrier, Engels expresses himself in almost identical terms:

Between a Socialist France and a Socialist Germany there could be no Alsatian question; the matter would be settled in the twinkling of an eye. It is only a matter of waiting for 10 years or so. The French, British and German workers await their deliverance; cannot the patriots of Alsace-Lorraine wait too? Is it worthwhile risking the devastation of a whole continent and, in the last resort, its subjection to the yoke of Tsarism for this? Is the game worth the candle?

These passages show clearly that Engels greatly feared a European war, whose ravages would equal those ‘of the Thirty Years’ War compressed into three or four years and spread over the whole continent, bringing famine, epidemics and the general depravation of the armies and the peoples in their train as a result of their acute misery’. [29]

He feared these ravages because he thought they might put back the social revolution by 10 or 15 years, as he pointed out in the above-mentioned article in the Almanach du Parti Ouvrier. The attitude of Engels in this matter is thus poles asunder from that of Lenin and the Leninists, who wish to use national-revolutionary movements in order to add to the proletarian revolution a motive force not its own. Engels’ attitude is also opposed to that of Rosa Luxemburg because it regards the proletarian revolution as an instrument capable of giving the oppressed peoples the right of self-determination, a right which Rosa Luxemburg refused to recognise.

The primary care of Socialism is thus to prevent war, and this consideration takes precedence over what the Socialist attitude towards the war should be should it nevertheless break out.

The war did break out in 1914, and demonstrated that the international working-class movement was too weak to prevent it. Is it still necessary in our day to stress the puerility of the reproach directed to working-class organisations that they did not have recourse to the general strike? Lenin himself saves us the trouble. In his famous Hague thesis he condemns the slogan of the general strike as utopian. How could a proletariat which was not strong enough to prevent the outbreak of war use the general-strike weapon to oppose the disaster once it had come upon the world?

We have already pointed out that the various Socialist parties, seeing that they never declared themselves against the idea of national defence, did not commit ‘treason’ in subsequently declaring themselves in favour of it. In the prewar International the principle of national defence was repudiated only by the anarchistic tendency of Gustave Hervé and his friends. Right up to the outbreak of war, from the extreme right to the extreme left of the International, with the sole exception of the Bolshevists, there was agreement on the principle, and disagreement only on the question of its application.

In face of the untruths still hawked around even to this day by certain people in the Socialist movement, though more no doubt from ignorance than bad faith, we find it necessary to remind our readers here that the gravest reproach levelled by Rosa Luxemburg against the German Majority Socialists was that they had deserted the principle of national defence:

Yes, certainly, democratic Socialists are obliged to defend their country in a great historic crisis. Just in this lies one great error of the Social-Democratic fraction in the Reichstag, which, whilst it was solemnly declaring on 4 August 1914, ‘in the moment of danger we shall not leave our country in the lurch’, was denying its own words. It did leave its country in the lurch at the hour of its greatest danger. [30]

As may well be imagined, Rosa Luxemburg’s conception of national defence was quite different from that of the Majority Socialists, but nevertheless, the extreme left wing of the Socialist movement was just as firmly attached to this principle as was the extreme right wing, and it is a gross falsification of history to say that it was the acceptance of the principle of national defence which paralysed and disrupted the International in 1914.

However, with certain Socialists the idea of national defence degenerated after the outbreak of war into a blind submission to their respective governments, to the total abandonment of the right to criticise, and to a pure and simple abdication in face of the ruling classes, even to the extent of enthusiastically accepting their annexationist aims. [31] This state of mind was particularly marked in the Social-Democratic Party of Germany, and it has never been better defined than by Friedrich Adler when he wrote of those Socialists who permitted themselves ‘to be mobilised ideologically’. [32] This is ‘social patriotism’ ‘or ‘social chauvinism’, which abdicates in face of the reaction, which, instead of working for peace at the earliest possible moment, is in favour of prosecuting the war to complete victory, whatever the cost and whatever the sacrifices, and which often enough even welcomes the outbreak of war with a light heart.

Social patriotism is the counterpart of defeatism. Extremes meet, and it is easy to pass from one to the other. Gustave Hervé and Alexandre Millerand demonstrated the truth of this, a long time ago, and today the leaders of the French Communist Party are about to follow in their footsteps.

As we have seen, social patriotism means the abdication in face of the privileged classes at home, the abandonment of any independent working-class policy, and the blind acceptance of their will, but defeatism means exactly the same thing, except that it is towards the privileged classes on the other side of the battle front. Both the one and the other of these two extremes deliver the workers bound hand and foot to the mercies of those against whom they should defend themselves. And, in any case, history shows us that once the desired defeat has been attained, the privileged classes, both victors and vanquished, join hands over the trenches, still soaked with fresh blood, to crush the proletariat with one accord. The defeatists of our day do not seem to have understood the lessons of the Thiers–Bismarck alliance of 1871, and of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919.

The defeat suffered by the Socialist International in 1914 was thus not the result of ‘treason'; it was merely the inevitable result of the weakness of the international Socialist movement, a weakness both practical and theoretical. The facts prove that the working-class movement was not strong enough to stave off the disaster. It took several years before it was able to emerge from its ideological confusion. In France the minority became a majority only in 1918, whilst in Germany the elections in January 1919 gave the Independent Socialists only 2.3 million votes as against 11.5 million votes for the Majority Socialists. [33] Let us then abandon once and for all the legend of ‘the treachery of the leaders’, and have courage enough to look reality in the face: the war took the working class by surprise; practically it was not strong enough to resist it successfully, and ‘ideologically’ it found itself a prey to indecision owing to the fact that, with the exception of Italy, the workers of all countries were faced with the threat of invasion.

As far as we know, weakness is not synonymous with either shame or treason.

Although the international working-class movement was unable to prevent the outbreak of war, it began to find its feet again in 1915-16. The ideology of social patriotism lost ground visibly, and by 1918 it retained its hold only on a steadily diminishing fraction of the organised working class. Defeatist ideology was never at any time accepted by any large masses of the people. After the end of the World War the mass of the organised working class seemed to have recovered its spiritual equilibrium and to have arrived at a certain unity of thought. It even appeared possible that the International would be able to reconstitute itself without any very great difficulty.

However, the World War proved only the beginning of an uninterrupted series of upheavals, and they made it necessary for international Socialism to re-chart its course. A succession of new and often unforeseen events gave rise to discussions on constantly changing problems. In face of a situation fundamentally different from that which prevailed before the World War, a change of policy became necessary. Naturally, this change also resulted in vehement discussion, which was then envenomed by the intervention of Bolshevism with its will to disruption on the international field. Thus the ideological differences were given an organisational basis.

III: The Objective Causes of the Split

The military collapse of Russia and then that of the Central Powers resulted in the breakdown of their autocratic regimes. Democracy having been won, Socialist parties came to power everywhere and took over the reins of government from the politically bankrupt classes discredited by the war, and the question then arose: would Socialism as an economic system also take over the succession from shaken and disorganised capitalism, which threatened to founder in general chaos?

The World War seemed to have opened up the era of proletarian revolution. After its terrible defeat in 1914 international Socialism took its revenge, and what a revenge! In a good half of Europe capitalism was either swept away altogether, as in Russia, or was at the mercy of Socialist parties, as in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In a tidal wave, the masses of the people, extending beyond the ranks of the proletariat proper, cast their votes for Socialism and gave it their adherence. Everything seemed possible providing only that sufficient boldness were shown.

However, these dazzling perspectives vanished after a very short space of time. Those who were in power as the representatives of the majority of the working class failed to display the necessary boldness. Were they right or wrong? We shall soon see. The boldness of a minority working for a more complete social transformation was insufficient to overthrow the existing regime. And even where that minority was successful (in Russia) it did not bring about Socialism. It might be hastily concluded from this that the working-class movement inspired by Marx suffered bankruptcy after the war just as it collapsed at the beginning of the massacre. Some people have drawn this conclusion, and in consequence they despair of Socialism, in general, both in theory and practice.

In our opinion they have gone too far and too fast. First of all, is the defeat of this or that action necessarily synonymous with the bankruptcy of whatever doctrine inspired it? Did the Eighteenth Brumaire and 2 December represent the bankruptcy of the doctrine and principles of republicanism? Must a refutation of monarchism as a government principle necessarily rely on such arguments as the execution of Louis XVI, Waterloo and Sedan?

Above all, we must take the circumstances in which an action is carried out into consideration, and the relation of forces prevailing, or, if such and such an action is not attempted, we must consider what opportunity was offered to attempt it.

And, finally, bankruptcy and defeat are very relative terms. They acquire their entire meaning only from the question: in relation to what? In comparison with the utopian hopes of those who believed in 1918-19 that Socialism could be carried out completely and at once, the years 1920–21 obviously brought the bankruptcy of Socialism all along the line both in Russia and in Central Europe. However, just one of the misfortunes of those days was that so many Socialists harboured grandiose illusions concerning the maturity of capitalism (and its corollary that of the working class) and the possibilities of the Socialist transformation. Today these illusions still haunt those who allow themselves the luxury of ill-considered criticism of Socialist action after the war.

Now, after an interval of over 20 years, the situation of those days can be appreciated more objectively and with less partisan feeling. We can sum it up as follows: deeply undermined by the war, capitalism entered upon the period of its decline; the era of proletarian revolution opened up; the question of socialisation passed from the sphere of theory to that of practical action; the working class, strong in its trade-union and political organisations, considerably more powerful than they were before the war, was able to throw a decisive weight in the scales of political and economic life.

These points were generally admitted in the working-class movement, from the extreme left wing to the extreme right wing. The latter, however, regarded the decline of capitalism as a passing phase only, due above all to the shock of war, [34] and, without refusing to envisage the possibility of socialisation, counted upon a speedy recovery of the existing regime. The extreme left wing, on the other hand, were convinced that the knell of capitalism had definitely sounded, and that the Socialist movement should proceed with all possible speed to take radical steps. Such differences of opinion with regard to the measure and degree of what ought to be done, differences which arose frequently before the war on various questions, were quite natural, and of themselves would certainly never have brought about a split.

For this to come about a particular constellation of circumstances was necessary, and in this respect Socialism was, alas, only too well served. Generally speaking, differences of opinion result in an organisational split only if they give rise to actions so diametrically opposed to each other that life under the same roof becomes impossible, [35] or if one of the conflicting tendencies advocates principles of organisation which imperiously demand its constitution as an autonomous party.

The first of these conditions for a split was present in Germany in 1916, and the second arose subsequently in 1919 on the international field.

Let us discuss the first of these conditions.

The policy of one fraction of German Social-Democracy was such that an organisational split became inevitable. Karl Kautsky was absolutely right when he declared that the disruption of the movement into ‘Majority’ and ‘Independent’ Socialists was all the more deplorable because it cut off the most resolute opponents of social patriotism from the mass of the party and retarded the growth of the opposition, but he agreed, in any case, ‘the split could hardly have been avoided except by the conclusion of a speedy peace’. [36] However, from the moment when one fraction of the party is hounded, persecuted and harassed by the police with the consent and approval, and at times upon the direct denunciation, of another fraction of the party, then it is clear that the maintenance of unity is impossible.

Once the war was at an end, the obstacles to unity which resulted from the diametrically opposed policies of the two fractions seemed for a moment to have vanished. Independent and Majority Socialists shared power in November 1918, [37] but grave differences of opinion soon made themselves felt. They centred on the date of the convocation of the National Assembly, but behind that apparently harmless question of a date was hidden the more serious questions of the revolutionary harvest to be gathered in before the appeal to universal suffrage. It was both a political and economic harvest.

From the political point of view many things might, in fact, have been done: for instance, the immediate disarming of reactionary and monarchist elements in the army, and the carrying out of a republican purge in the state apparatus. From the economic point of view it would have been more difficult to act rapidly, and we do not believe that the immediate harvest could have been very abundant. The excessive prudence of the Majority Socialists carried the day. History has since shown us that they were wrong, but they were undoubtedly expressing the sentiments of the immense majority of the German working class. At the national congress of the workers’ councils which took place in Germany at the end of 1918, the Independents represented only a small minority, whilst Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had no mandates and were not even present. The immense majority of the congress approved the standpoint of the Majority Socialists.

The minority, free to pursue and intensify its propaganda, might reasonably have hoped to carry its point of view to triumph during the course of the revolutionary process. The first phase of all revolutions is invariably characterised by the abundant growth of illusions. This was pointed out by Marx in his Eighteenth Brumaire, and Rosa Luxemburg constantly insists on it in the numerous articles written by her and published in November and December 1918 in the Rote Fahne. [38] The task was thus to win over the majority of the German working class for the bolder solutions put forward by the left wing.

However, the left wing itself was a prey to deep divisions. The group of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Franz Mehring — the so-called Spartakus League — seceded definitely from the Independent Socialist Party, and constituted itself the Communist Party of Germany on 31 December 1918. In the ranks of the Independent Socialist Party, the left wing, numerically weakened by the departure of the Spartakists, was opposed to the right wing, morally weakened by its participation in power together with the Majority Socialists. The latter, sole masters of power since the end of December (Haase, Dittmann and Barth having resigned as a protest against the increasingly repressive anti-working-class policy carried out by their Majority Socialist colleagues), appealed to the most reactionary elements of the old army, the monarchist officers, in face of a rising wave of working-class agitation, and this perpetuated the division between the Majority and Independent Socialists by the fault of the former.

However, the cleavage between the Spartakus League, which had constituted itself the Communist Party of Germany, and the Independent Socialist Party was without any justification. [39] This was a grave fault of which the disastrous consequences appeared on the very day of the foundation of the Communist Party. The sectarian elements, for the most part new recruits to Socialism led by a few older Socialists who had lost their heads, went beyond Rosa Luxemburg and her friends, and obtained a majority for a proposal to boycott the elections to the National Assembly. However, these elements were more than sectarians; like most of those who come to Socialism in unsettled periods, they confused Marxism with Blanquism, and armed uprising with revolution. And it was these elements who, against the advice of Rosa Luxemburg, launched the putsch on 6 January 1919 which created an opportunity for the tragic assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

We have no intention of withdrawing anything we may have written during the past 20 years of our Socialist activity concerning the abominable role played by the Eberts and Noskes in the German Revolution. However, elementary justice forces us to recognise that the thoughtless antics of raw recruits, who had no idea of the real situation, who were unable to discipline themselves, and who were incapable of accepting the soundest advice even from a leader like Rosa Luxemburg, must also bear their share of responsibility for what happened. We feel ourselves obliged to emphasise this with all the more insistence today because the happenings in Clichy [40] in March 1937 gave us a foretaste of what would threaten the French working-class movement if that mass of newcomers, in need above all things of a strong dose of Socialist education, should find a centre for the coordination of its disastrous policy of ‘revolutionary gymnastics’ in a dissident organisation, poor in numbers, but a happy hunting ground for agents-provocateurs. [41]

The blood which flowed widened the gulf between the different fractions of the German working class, and the influence of masses of new recruits weighed upon the policies of all working-class parties. The petty-bourgeois elements, ‘radicalised’ by the revolution, showed a preference for the Majority Socialist organisation, and caused its policy to veer still farther to the right. On the other hand, those working-class elements which, up to then, had remained unorganised and were hardly touched by the true spirit of Socialism, flowed generally into the Independent Socialist Party and into the Spartakus League, where their putschist tendencies caused the disastrous ravages with which we are now all familiar.

‘Mass spontaneity’, upon which Rosa Luxemburg had counted so confidently as the primary motive force of the proletarian revolution, now turned against the revolution. Throughout the year 1919 strikes and risings, unprepared and lacking coordination, flared up and died down in all parts of the Reich at the bidding of ‘active minorities’. The revolutionary fraction of the German working class bled itself white in trying to act over the heads of the majority, who repudiated the conquest of power after the model of the Russian Revolution; and in bleeding itself white it weakened the offensive force of the whole working class. Noske turned for help to the most reactionary circles of the old imperial army, the officers who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, and enabled the privileged classes, who, for the moment, had been driven from the scene, to come back and prepare their revenge.

March 1920 witnessed the reactionary Kapp Putsch, from which the Republic was saved only by the prompt and unanimous action of the working class. But hardly was this danger past when Noske again let loose the Reichswehr against the workers who had taken up arms to defeat the rebellious generals, and the generals who had failed in their attempt to bring back Wilhelm from Holland were at least given the base satisfaction of revenging themselves personally for their disappointment by shooting and massacring the working-men whose action had saved the Republic. And the Majority Socialists let them do it. They also neglected to purge the courts of justice and remove those ruling-class judges who closed their eyes whenever they were called upon to deal out justice to the murderers of revolutionaries, or even to the murderers of simple democrats like Erzberger and Rathenau. [42]

The happenings in Germany briefly described above throw light upon the objective causes of the split in the German working-class movement and show us that they were due to a series of particular circumstances against which human goodwill was powerless. The split took place in tragic circumstances. The Socialist parties of Austria and elsewhere were spared the experience. According to their temperament and to their estimate of the situation, the Socialist militants of other countries supported the one or the other of the tendencies which were tearing the German working-class movement asunder, but they did not find their own differences sufficient reason for causing a split in their own organisations. They felt no inclination to follow the German working-class movement in its errors to the point of organisational disruption and fratricidal strife.

Working-class disunity, limited to one country, is certainly an evil, but it is a minor evil which leaves the unity of the International intact. Before the war the existence of several French or Russian Socialist parties did not represent a threat to the unity of the International. However, the minor evil became a major one the moment Bolshevism crossed the Russian frontier and appeared on the world stage.

IV: The Subjective Cause of the Split in the International

We have already described the Bolshevist organisational theory, which, although labelled Marxist, in reality represents a lapse into Blanquism, and has its roots in the backward state of Russia in general and of the Russian working class in particular. Bolshevism is a sectarian and authoritarian organisation intended to group only a small number of resolute ‘professional revolutionaries’ ready to carry out without discussion all orders emanating from a ‘Central Committee’ responsible to and controlled by no other body. It is the very party for leading unenlightened masses in revolt, and directing their drive towards objectives whose real significance and repercussions are known only to the ‘professional’ leaders. In short, it is the classic type of organisation produced by the bourgeois revolution, and adopted by the nascent working-class movement in the first half of the nineteenth century in Western Europe, and by the Russian working-class movement later.

The international spread of Bolshevism after the end of the World War is often attributed to the great prestige given to it by the Russian Revolution of November 1917. That is doubtless true, but only in part. The psychological effect of those ‘ten days that shook the world’ was certainly enormous. How could a revolution arriving in power and proposing to all the world an immediate peace without annexations and without indemnities fail to win at once the active sympathies of the peoples, already heartily tired of slitting each other’s throats? How could a revolution carried out by a Socialist party fail to fill the masses of the working class with hope? How could a revolution, whatever its label, and providing that it seemed to bring peace nearer, fail to move the conscience of the world? And when the seizure of power by the Bolshevists was followed by the adoption of economic measures which were, rightly or wrongly — we shall discuss this point later — considered Socialist, the masses of the people began to identify Bolshevism with Socialism.

However, there is a wide gap between all this and the blind acceptance of Bolshevist methods by the workers of Central and Western Europe. For admiration to change into imitation, and for the wish to defend the Russian Revolution from its enemies to change into the willing acceptance of the orders of its governing party, a constellation of certain conditions, which was in fact not present everywhere, was necessary. One of these conditions, the desire of Bolshevism to bring about a split in the international working-class movement, was present and apparent in all countries. However, this desire would not have been sufficient in itself had it not found an echo, stronger in some countries, weaker in others, in the heart of the working-class masses. For the seed of Bolshevism to take root in Central and Western Europe it had to fall on favourable ground. It found it in the masses of people who came to Socialism under the shock of war, just those masses who had not gone through the school of democratic Socialism before 1914.

Whoever, in recalling the series of events which followed on the World War, tries to understand what happened during the terrible years of disruption from 1918 to 1920 must be astonished at the strange behaviour of the masses during that troubled period. He will find that there was not one mass, but two masses; two masses quite distinct from each other despite a large measure of overlapping and fusion. One of these two masses, accustomed for a fairly long time to the ideas and methods of Socialism, did its best to keep its head and to remain a disciplined body following the lead of its directive organs, whose general policy it was called upon to lay down itself at its sovereign congresses. The other mass, brought into action only by the war (and in Central Europe by defeat and dissolution), unacquainted with the ideas and methods of Socialism except for a few ill-digested slogans, a prey to perpetual and easily understood excitement, submitting unwillingly to the discipline of an organisation to which it was not attached by any tradition, reacted exactly like the unenlightened workers during capitalism’s period of adolescence in the first half of the nineteenth century. It flung itself headlong into all sorts of affrays without weighing up the chances of success or the possible or probable results. Blanquist tendencies had long been rejected by the first mass, but they completely swayed the actions of the second. And by the term Blanquist tendencies we do not mean merely putschism, but also, and above all, the preparedness of this second mass to accept Blanquist organisational principles.

The awakening of the unorganised working masses provided Russian Bolshevism with the favourable soil indispensable to it in Central and Western Europe. Those who experienced the years of disruption will at once agree that from September to December 1920, from the split in the Czech Social-Democracy to the Congress of Tours — via the split in the German Independent Socialist Party at Halle — one and the same phenomenon was observable everywhere: the majority of the new and raw recruits to Socialism voted for joining the Moscow International, whilst the majority of the older Socialists voted against it. And in 1921, when the French CGT was being dragged into a split, we again saw the collision of these ‘two masses’. Wherever the influx of these new elements is particularly large in relation to the masses already organised, the awakening proletariat with its Blanquist tendencies prevails over the proletariat already awakened and imbued with Marxist ideas. [43] And these Blanquist newcomers proclaim that those Socialists who remained faithful to the Marxist tradition have betrayed Marxism.

The mentality of these newcomers enables them to accept the lapse into sectarianism with a light heart, because for them, in fact, it is not a lapse at all. What would seem to be a lapse for old Socialists seems like progress for these newcomers. They arrive at class consciousness in a rudimentary and primitive form, but they do arrive, [44] and the historians of the year 2000 will record this fact with rejoicing unmixed with bitterness. Those who lived through this awakening, on the other hand, will feel regret that the progress of enlightenment, like technical progress, has its negative sides, its antithesis. As some consolation let us draw the conclusion that Marxist dialectic finds in this its full justification.

Our examination would be incomplete if we failed to go one step farther: most of the leaders who promoted the split were much less imbued with the Blanquist spirit than the mass, at least with regard to organisational principles. On their part, the newly-organised masses implicitly obeyed the orders of those who proposed to prepare and organise the conquest of power. The leaders for their part were profoundly convinced that the traditional methods of Socialism had proved themselves ineffective, and that it was necessary to ‘rejuvenate’ Western European Socialism with a transfusion of fresh Russian blood.

Actually, Rosa Luxemburg and her friends in the Spartakus League, always opposed to Bolshevist organisational principles, had no desire for a split on the international field. In her pamphlet on the Russian Revolution Rosa Luxemburg warned her comrades-in-arms in September 1918 against any servile imitation of Bolshevist methods. After the constitution of the Spartakus League as the Communist Party of Germany at the beginning of January 1919, and in view of an international conference to be held in Moscow in the following March at the instance of the Bolshevists, she persuaded the Central Committee of her party to declare itself against the founding of a new International. Hugo Eberlein, the delegate of the Communist Party of Germany to that conference, only half carried out his instructions. He put forward the objections of his party according to his instructions, but he did not vote against the formation of the Communist International. He was nevertheless the only delegate who abstained. [45] Thus the Communist International was founded against the will of the only Communist Party playing a role of any political importance in the more highly-developed part of capitalist Europe, and the very vote which decided on its creation stamped it with the stigma of sectarianism.

The foundation of the Communist International in March 1919 meant the internationalisation of the split, and this split rested on an entirely different basis from that which took place during the war in Germany between the Independent and the Majority Socialists. In 1916-17 the question at issue was primarily that of the attitude to be taken up towards the war. In 1919 it was a question of the proletarian revolution, and criticism of social patriotism played only a retrospective part in the programme, writings and speeches of the Communists, social patriotism being considered as a synonym for the ‘right-wing’ in general. Although in many cases this was true, the generalisation was far too sweeping. [46]

The great majority of all Socialists were in agreement in believing that the era of proletarian revolution had begun. Even those of the extreme right wing, who did not consider that capitalism had received a mortal blow, believed in the possibility, if not the necessity, of the socialisation of those industries which had arrived at a sufficient degree of centralisation. The differences between them referred to methods rather than to aims, but the Communists exalted methods to principles.

The first of these methods made principles was the organisation of the left-wing opposition into an autonomous party. We have already seen that this is the essential and distinctive characteristic of Russian Bolshevism, and that the German Spartakists accepted it only very much against their will. This principle was, in fact, in flagrant contradiction with all the theories they had previously professed, and in particular with the vehement criticism of Lenin’s ideas delivered by Rosa Luxemburg in 1904, and with her theory of spontaneity. Nine years later Jakob Walcher, one of the few German Communist leaders capable of reasoning, tried to explain and to justify the capitulation of the Spartakists to the organisational principles of Bolshevism. In a detailed summary of Volume 4 of the Collected Works of Rosa Luxemburg, which deals with trade unionism and strikes, [47] and after having shown that postwar German experience confirmed her theory of spontaneity, Walcher writes:

However, experience has also shown that spontaneous mass movements run to waste and end in defeat unless there is a party at hand capable of taking direction of them and giving them the lead, aim and cohesion they require. It is only with a party which knows how to organise revolution, and understands that insurrection is an art, that we shall succeed in directing those revolutionary forces which arise out of the class struggle against a definite objective. It is only under such conditions that a lead can be given to the struggle, releasing every ounce of energy and at the same time remaining thoughtful, cold and realistic, which will replace the blind and chaotic rush in which we should risk smashing our heads against a brick wall. [48]

This argumentation of Jakob Walcher expresses with greater exactness the idea of György Lukács to which we referred earlier in this book: the idea of the imminence of revolution. However, the important question was precisely whether the proletarian revolution would take the same forms as the bourgeois revolution, in which a party enthroned above the ignorant and uncultured masses, drove them forward to the assault. We have already seen that the rebellious masses, those who take part in this ‘blind and chaotic rush’, and ‘risk smashing their heads against a brick wall’, were just the least enlightened and the least imbued with the Socialist spirit. It is in the passage which we have quoted from Walcher that we can best see that Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of mass spontaneity and the organisational principles of Lenin, as opposed to each other as they seem to be at first sight, are in reality only two aspects of one and the same phenomenon, namely the immaturity of a large section of the proletariat.

It is here that the connection between the organisational problem and that of the proletarian revolution appears with striking clarity. If we adopt a Jacobin–Blanquist conception of these problems, one arising from an imitation of the methods of the bourgeois revolution, then we shall inevitably be led to accept the Bolshevist form of organisation. [49]

If, on the other hand, we remain faithful to the spirit of Marxism, and hold that the Socialist revolution can only be brought about by a mature proletariat freely disposing of its own future, by a proletariat embodying ‘history conscious of itself’, we cannot but repudiate the organisational principles of Lenin. The former conception, even if it seems at first to reject these principles (Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartakists), leads finally to a marshalling of the unorganised or newly-organised masses against those masses organised and enlightened long before, with the result that a fratricidal struggle breaks out. In the event of defeat there is useless bloodshed, and in the event of victory there is a civil war and a minority dictatorship which render any rational reorganisation of the economic system on Socialist lines impossible. The latter conception strives to assimilate the new recruits to the masses already organised, and to imbue them with a sense of their responsibilities, with a knowledge of the historic process, its future prospects and its present limits, and with that democratic spirit without which Socialism must remain a chimera.

These were the two conceptions which disputed for mastery in the hearts and minds of the workers following on the end of the World War. The spread of the second conception was terribly handicapped by the violent awakening of great masses of unorganised workers; their successful assimilation required a much greater portion of Socialist leaven. The policy of the Majority Socialists in Germany was not by its nature calculated to hasten that assimilation; on the contrary, it drove the newcomers into the camp of Bolshevism. Despite all that, the split might have left the parties of the Communist International as skeletons without real flesh had Moscow not thrown its financial resources into the scale. During the period of which we are speaking there was no question of intellectual, moral and material corruption, however, and this began to spread only later under the Zinoviev regime (from 1924 onwards) and still later under Stalin.

We are referring here to the subsidies granted to those fractions of the working-class movement which sympathised with the Communist International, in order to permit them to create ready-made Communist Parties in their respective countries. Provided that it is supplied with sufficient funds, any sectarian tendency could in this way obtain an influence far beyond that which it could otherwise hope to have as a result of its principles, its intellectual abilities and its own normal driving force. It was thanks to the great material support given by Moscow to the parties of the Communist International that they were enabled to establish a firm foothold in several Western and Central European countries, and in this way they seriously hindered the assimilation of the eleventh-hour recruits to the body of democratic Socialism.

But although these differences in organisational principles are the essential characteristic of the international split inaugurated by the foundation of the Communist International, we must not overlook a number of other points of difference introduced into the working-class movement in Western Europe by the Russian Revolution of November 1917, which has been presented as a model for a Socialist and proletarian revolution. The conclusions drawn by the Bolshevists have been presented to the working class as authentic Marxism, and on this account they deserve closer examination.

V: The Distortion of Marxist Theory by Bolshevism

Thanks to Bolshevism the terminology of prewar Socialism has suffered almost unbelievable distortion, and we can hear echoes of it today even in the ranks of Socialist parties. Words have changed their meaning: Bolshevism has put forward as Marxism ideas which are not Marxist at all, and has given a new meaning to the term ‘reformism’. The Kautsky–Luxemburg–Bernstein controversy used the word ‘reformist’ to designate those who repudiated the class struggle, renounced the Socialist aim of the working-class movement, and limited their activities purely and simply to the amelioration of the prevailing capitalist regime.

From 1919 onwards the Bolshevists, and even many Socialists under their influence, denounced as ‘reformist’ anyone who refused to accept their so-called Marxist doctrine as a dogma outside which there was no salvation. The most obvious Blanquism seemed to them to be ‘orthodox Marxism’, and the term ‘reformist’ was flung as a supreme insult at the heads of all those who consistently upheld the ideas of Marx as defended by Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg against Eduard Bernstein. [50]

From September 1918 onwards Rosa Luxemburg saw and warned the working class against the danger of a mechanical transfer of Bolshevist methods to the Central and Western European scene. Discussing the actions of Lenin and Trotsky she wrote:

By their vigorously revolutionary attitude, their exemplary force of action, and their unshakable fidelity to international Socialism, they have truly done everything it was possible to do in such diabolically difficult conditions. The danger begins at that point where, making a virtue of necessity, they turned the tactics which they had been compelled to adopt by these terribly difficult conditions into a complete theory, and commended its acceptance to the international proletariat as a model of Socialist tactics. By doing this they put forward their own personalities, where they ought not to be involved, and hide their real and incontestable historic merit under the bushel of faults imposed on them by necessity. Thus they render a bad service to the cause of international Socialism in whose name they struggled and suffered, when they claim to add new truths to the general fund of Socialist ideas, new truths which are in reality old errors committed in Russia under the pressure of necessity, and, in the last resort, as the result of the bankruptcy of international Socialism in the World War. [51]

Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in January 1919. She no longer lived to witness the ravages the servile imitation of Bolshevist methods was to cause subsequently in the Western-European working-class movement, going even so far that finally ‘Luxemburgism’ was denounced by the leaders of the Communist International as one of the most pernicious forms of ‘reformism’.

Let us review briefly the principal distortions wrought by Bolshevism in the current ideas of traditional Socialism.

Contrary to one of the fundamental ideas of Marxism, Bolshevism is not at all interested in the question of whether capitalism has arrived at that stage of maturity necessary to give immediate birth to a Socialist society. Bolshevists considered that this problem was solved by the World War and by the economic collapse of capitalist society which followed upon the war, and that it was solved so absolutely and completely that they denounced as the obvious product of ‘reformist’ and ‘revisionist’ ideology all proposals for socialisation by stages, despite the fact that such proposals were quite in accordance with all Marxist teaching. Their denunciation was all the more vehement because under the stress of civil war Russia had adopted ‘War Communism’, the realisation of complete Socialism.

Once again, to use the words of Rosa Luxemburg, the Bolshevists were making a virtue of necessity and developing the tactics which had been forced upon them by the fatal conditions of their isolated revolution into a complete theory. In 1921 the Bolshevists were themselves compelled to liquidate their War Communism, and, with the New Economic Policy, to introduce a mixed economic system including a vast private sector. Lenin tried to justify this retreat [52] by explaining that a reformist policy [53] was a sound one after the conquest of power, and to be condemned only before that conquest, which, in Lenin’s eyes, was always opposed to the accession to power within the framework of democracy.

Further, Socialism having been accomplished in Russia by expropriation without compensation (there again in the tragic circumstances of civil war and foreign aggression), the rejection of compensation became, in the eyes of the Communists, and of many Socialists who succumbed to the disease, the supreme criterion of revolutionary deportment — and of Marxist deportment, too, despite the opinions expressed by Marx and Engels. The supporters of compensation, though they were faithful to the ideas of Marx, were denounced as ‘renegades’ and ‘traitors’.

There might have been some justification for a frank revision of the Marxist doctrine on the ground that the experience of the Russian Revolution, with its socialisation accomplished overnight and without compensation, had brought forward new facts contradicting Marx and Engels, but the Bolshevists insisted, on the contrary, that the measures taken in Russia under the stress of adversity and in very unusual circumstances confirmed the views of the two founders of scientific Socialism, and made Bolshevism the sole authentic inheritor of Marxist doctrine.

In the Kautsky–Luxemburg–Bernstein controversy the question of the accession to power was left open. Whilst in Rosa Luxemburg’s observations we can occasionally hear echoes of the earlier ideas of Marx and Engels, which were tinged with Blanquism, Kautsky insists more on the absurdity of choosing the way of armed uprising when ‘more certain and less costly’ ways are open, and in this he shows himself a faithful follower of the founders of scientific Socialism. Seeing that the Russian Revolution was carried out by way of insurrection, the Bolshevists and the Bolshevised Socialists concluded that henceforward this must be the sole method everywhere, and that only insurrection (certain French Socialists, finding insurrection of itself insufficient, even dreamt of ‘the insurrectionary general strike’) fulfilled all the conditions of Marxist orthodoxy. According to Mr Sidney Hook, for instance, whose opinion we have already quoted, this insurrection is then to be followed by a lively and jolly little civil war. [54] All this was presented as Marxism in spite of the contrary opinions expressed on a number of occasions by Marx and Engels, and loyally quoted by Mr Sidney Hook, who, however, thought it necessary to surround them with reservations. All those who felt that these methods were useless, or even harmful in a democratic regime, were banished from the pale of Marxism by the Communists and denounced as ‘reformists’.

Once in power the proletariat must, according to Communist doctrine, smash the state machinery and replace it by a new structure based on soviets: workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils. [55] We have already quoted the opinion of Jules Martov, which is shared by the great majority of Socialist theoreticians, [56] according to which Marx was not thinking of the machinery of state as such, but of bureaucratic and military excrescences surviving from an autocratic regime. No Socialist will reproach the Bolshevists with having made a clean sweep of these excrescences in a country where the state machinery suffered particularly from such evils. The gravest error of German Social-Democracy was precisely that it failed to attack them. But whilst German Social-Democracy did less than the indispensable minimum, the Bolshevists went farther than was necessary, and into the bargain they set up their errors as inalienable rules of conduct for the international working-class movement. They replaced the developing democratic state by Soviets. In his State and Revolution, Lenin certainly highly recommended the democratic virtues of the Soviets, but their very structure offered far fewer democratic possibilities than that of modern parliamentarism. [57] And in this we are not taking into account the fact that the Bolshevist Party ended by establishing a totalitarian dictatorship, and eliminating forcibly all other proletarian tendencies.

After having proclaimed the soviet system as the model and incarnation par excellence of proletarian democracy, Bolshevism went on to suppress proletarian democracy altogether. [58]

After having declared itself the instrument of the ‘proletarian dictatorship’, Bolshevism goes on to cow the proletariat under the totalitarian whip of a minority, which is itself first under the dictatorship of a handful of leaders, and finally under the dictatorship of one man, and that man no genius. Rosa Luxemburg writes:

In the last resort cliquism develops a dictatorship, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat: the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is, a dictatorship in the bourgeois, in the Jacobin sense... And further, such a state of affairs necessarily causes an increase of brutality in public life, individual terror, the shooting of hostages, etc. [59]

Thus, in the Bolshevist sense, the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes the dictatorship of one proletarian party to the exclusion of all others, and even that one party loses more and more the freedom to express its own will and to criticise its leaders. This dictatorship embodies itself successively in that of the soviets, that of the party, that of the Politburo of the party, and finally that of the henceforth irremovable General Secretary of the party. The soviets and the party dissolve themselves into nothing. And in the end the argument put forward to justify all this is that lack of maturity on the part of the proletariat has compelled the Bolshevists to limit the liberty of the workers. But that is precisely what democratic Socialism has always insisted upon: Russia is not ripe for Socialism, either from the standpoint of its economic system or from the standpoint of the maturity of its working class. The whole evolution of Russia during the past 20 years proves this, and those who persist in declaring that Socialist maturity exists in Russia have only two possibilities open to them: they may camouflage truth and proclaim mendaciously that ‘the building up of Socialism’ is proceeding from victory to victory, as the Stalinists do, or they can frankly recognise that nothing of all this is true, and explain this deplorable evolution by ‘treachery’, as Trotsky does, [60] an explanation which Friedrich Engels terms ‘lamentable’.

Lenin’s theory of the proletarian dictatorship as embodied in the form of soviets, suffers from the failing which we have already pointed out in the second chapter of this book with regard to his organisational principles: the confusion of content and form. Lenin believed that it was sufficient to give the party another structure, another form, in order to make it a more efficient instrument for proletarian emancipation. In the same way he believed that it was sufficient to replace parliamentarism by the soviet system in order to turn ‘bourgeois’ democracy into ‘proletarian’ democracy. However, the ‘bourgeois’ or ‘proletarian’ character of democracy, even supposing that the soviet system expresses a democratic ideal, does not depend at all upon the structure of the state. On the contrary, the state and its structure proceed from the socio-economic basis on which they stand, [61] and no act of will can make the state anything but what the degree of economic development and the degree of maturity of the masses permit it to be.

In Lenin’s conception of the proletarian International we again find this same tendency to place the form above the content, whereas, on the contrary, the whole genius of Marx lies in the use of a method which recognises the priority of the content over the form. It was in order to prevent the further disruption of the International by a new war that Lenin founded the Communist International. The best means of preventing a future possible split seemed to him to be the proclamation of an immediate and actual permanent split. Like Gribouille, he throws himself into the water to get out of the rain.

The International created in this way in order not to split again in case of a new war, was, according to the stipulations of the celebrated ‘Twenty-One Conditions’, to include neither ‘social patriots’ nor ‘social pacifists’, that is to say, internationalists like Jean Longuet who repudiated Blanquism. Thus it could not possibly include more than a small minority of the international working class. Was there much likelihood of an International founded on such a sectarian basis proving very useful in the struggle against war? Even a limited organisation, subjected to iron discipline, and founded on the international application of Lenin’s organisational principles, would not be exempt from splits. This is proved by the innumerable and endless ‘purges’ which have taken place in the Communist parties during the past 20 years. Even putting these splits on one side, has an international sect, however homogeneous it may be, and however enthusiastic and devoted its members, a greater power of action than an International organising the masses of the workers? A sect is condemned to impotence in any case, whereas although in particularly tragic circumstances an organisation of the masses may be rendered helpless, it need not inevitably be so.

It is here that we place our finger on the essential cause of the weakness of the working-class International, a weakness which is caused by objective circumstances, and not by the ‘treason’ of individuals. The various nations find themselves at different stages of capitalist development, and, of course, their working-class movements naturally find themselves at correspondingly varied stages of development. [62] The proletariat is not the ideal and abstract collective body, already fully organised and uniformly enlightened, that certain armchair Marxists imagine. An International striving to organise the masses of the workers of all countries necessarily suffers from the weaknesses which result from the differences we have just discussed. Such an International cannot be more than the sum of all the national proletariats of which it is comprised. Whilst it is the task of its leading members to recognise the limits of its strength, it certainly has real strength, whereas a sectarian International, however grandiloquent its resolutions may be, has no real strength at all. Seeing that an all-powerful International could never exist, we have the choice between an imperfect International which can at least do something, and a ‘perfect’ International which could do nothing at all. Bolshevism has made its choice — and so has democratic Socialism.

It is democratic Socialism which has the right to claim the authority of Marx and Engels, not Bolshevism.

In a letter to Bolte on 23 November 1871, Marx wrote:

The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle... And the history of the International was a continual struggle on the part of the General Council against the sects and amateur experiments which attempted to assert themselves within the International itself against the genuine movement of the working class. [63]

And Engels pointed out on more than one occasion the harm that would be done by an attempt to impose any doctrine whatever upon the working-class movement from without. The passages which we quote below refer to the activities of German emigrants in the American working-class movement, who behaved at that time in much the same way (money and corruption, of course, excepted) as the emissaries of Moscow now behave in the international working-class movement.

On 28 December 1886, Engels wrote as follows to Mme Vischnevetzki:

The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class... and I consider that many of the Germans there have made a grievous mistake when they tried in the face of a mighty and glorious movement not of their own creation, to make of their imported and not always understood theory a kind of alleinseligmachendes [the only one leading to salvation — Translator] dogma, and to keep aloof from any movement which did not accept that dogma. Our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of evolution, and that process involves successive phases... A million or two of working-men’s votes next November for a bona fide working-men’s party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform. [64]

On 27 January 1887, he wrote a further letter to the same lady:

When Marx founded the International he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class Socialists of that period could join it — Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English trades unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, with the exception of the Anarchists... Had we from 1864 to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform where should we be today? I think that all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German-Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake. [65]

And finally on 9 February 1887, we find him writing to her as follows:

That great national movement, no matter what its first form, is the real starting point of American working-class development; if the Germans join it, in order to help it or to hasten its development in the right direction, they may do a deal of good and play a decisive part in it; if they stand aloof, they will dwindle down into a dogmatic sect, and will be brushed aside as people who do not understand their own principles. [66]

This should clinch the matter. It can be seen clearly from the above quotations that Bolshevism has no right to appeal to the authority of Marx and Engels. Obviously it has the right to do what it likes apart from this, but then let it be honest enough to repudiate Marxism openly and to stop denouncing real Marxists as ‘renegades’ and ‘traitors’.

Bolshevism, whether of the Trotskyist or Stalinist order, has another argument in reserve: Marx and Engels may have been right for their day in stressing the necessity of an International embracing all working-class organisations, but since then Socialist parties have adopted a policy of social peace and repudiated the class struggle, thereby making a rigorous separation necessary.

VI: The Class Struggle and Social Peace

Bolshevism attempts to justify the split in the International by declaring that Socialist parties have abandoned the class struggle and become converts in practice to the doctrine of social peace inspired by class collaboration. Quite recently such practices were again denounced under the name of ‘Social-Democratism’ by the General Secretary of the Communist International. A certain section of the French Socialist Party hastened to associate itself with this denunciation. The essential question involved is that of Socialist participation in bourgeois governments, that is to say, the policy of coalition with bourgeois parties. Such a reproach, we must admit, is particularly intriguing when it comes from people (we are referring to the Communists) who themselves clamorously demanded ministerial portfolios in order that they too might take part in the administration of the ‘bourgeois’ state.

A closer examination of this question will once again show us that the critics of Socialist parties are juggling with words. The class struggle is by no means synonymous with social war or civil war. It is the necessary result of the division of society into classes, and it will exist as long as that division exists. According to circumstances, it expresses itself in a great variety of forms, from the exercise of the franchise and the exertion of peaceful pressure, to open explosions and the use of ruthless violence. Social peace is thus by no means the opposite pole of the class struggle, but a phase of that struggle determined, it may be, by an equal balance of social forces, or, it may be, by the temporary complete supremacy of one side over the other. The class struggle, like all other struggles, implies in any case incessant compromises which give rise, whether one likes it or not, to a certain collaboration. Lenin himself was obliged to stress, against the wordy intransigence of his followers, the necessity and expediency for such compromises. [67] And Marx himself reproached the Paris Commune with not having sought to arrive at ‘a compromise advantageous to the masses of the people’ with the Versaillais. [68] It is a ridiculous misunderstanding to imagine that struggle is one thing and compromise another. The two things condition and merge into each other. All struggle implies compromise, and all compromise is the expression or result of a struggle: without struggle compromise would be useless and inconceivable.

It is curious to observe that the enemies of Marxism interpret the doctrine of the class struggle in more or less the same fashion as the most intransigent upholders of that doctrine. Both of them see only the purely physical aspects of the problem, and often fortify their attitude by the emotional factor of hatred. [69] On the part of those who pretend to believe that the materialist conception of history is only ‘sordid materialism’ of primary interest to the stomach, this is not surprising. They misrepresent the theory of the class struggle just as they misrepresent Marxism in general. On reflection perhaps this misrepresentation is not altogether surprising even for the extreme left-wing elements of the working-class movement, most of whom are usually newcomers to the Socialist movement, whose knowledge of Marxism was gained from a study of the capitalist press, of which they were faithful readers up to the moment when they began to be conscious of their class interests. They take as Marxism what these prejudiced newspapers presented to them as such, and they overwhelm the old-time Socialists with the vilest insults for refusing to conduct the class struggle in the manner depicted by the reactionary press.

In reality, the doctrine of the class struggle is a factor which has contributed more than any other to the humanisation of social struggles. It was Marxist doctrine which taught the working class that it was not the industrialist A or the banker B who was responsible for its poverty, that there was no sense in attacking the person of this or that capitalist, and that it was stupid to blame machinery for unemployment and the depression of wages. It was the Marxist doctrine which taught the wage-workers that their emancipation could be brought about only by the transformation of the existing economic system. [70] The organised working class has always condemned acts of terrorism against individuals, and even the Communist International, in spite of its fundamentally anti-Marxist principles, practised individual terrorism only post mortem, that is to say, after the advent of Stalin. On the other hand, individual terrorism is the common practice of the enemies of the class struggle. All the extremists of the Right have recourse to terrorism without scruple, as proved by the innumerable murders committed by German nationalists since 1919, and by their French emulators the Cagoulards. The degenerate intellectuals who almost succeeded in killing Léon Blum in 1936, all the experts with carving-knives, bombs delivered at the front door, and poisoned cocktails, thought themselves able to destroy the class struggle by savage attacks on individuals.

Very fortunately Marxism can boast of always having vigorously opposed such practices. [71] But there are ‘Marxists’, who, whilst quite understanding that the class struggle is not the same thing as a succession of scrimmages, feel none the less that they would be lacking in what they believe to be good Marxist deportment if they admitted that the class struggle might adopt less and less violent forms. As in the case of Lenin, these people confuse content with form. The much-maligned Marx, whom they claim as their teacher, would turn in his grave if he heard their talk. All dialectical conception of the world they live in is foreign to them. Just as they will never understand (although Marx taught us that it was so) why a rise in the rate of surplus-value must be accompanied by a fall in the rate of profit, and why a fall in relative wages is not at all irreconcilable with a rise in nominal and real wages, so they will apparently never understand that an intensification of the capitalist exploitation of wage labour need not necessarily bring with it a recrudescence of savagery in social struggles. [72]

At the same time there is no doubt whatever that certain big-capitalist elements, those who subsidise the terrorist organisations of the Right, actually want civil war, but the working class would be foolish to please them by falling into their trap, if it had at its disposal more effective and less murderous means of disarming its enemies. However, the mere wish of certain big-capitalist elements is not sufficient to let loose civil war. The most dangerous madman can be rendered harmless by putting him in a padded cell. By what means? Asylum attendants tell us that the strait-waistcoat is the most appropriate means. In political strategy Marxists will apply the doctrine of the class struggle for this purpose.

This doctrine permits us to examine the anatomy of the social organism carefully, to analyse the objective situation of the various classes, to understand their interests, their needs and their aspirations, and to recognise in what measure and to what point their claims can be reconciled with those of the wage-earning class. All that remains then is to form a block of all those sections of society interested in social progress within the bounds of legality against the advocates of civil war. That is our means, our ‘strait-waistcoat’. And although it may seem paradoxical, the class struggle is thus waged for the maintenance of social peace.

The class struggle unrolls in continually changing circumstances and it demands constantly differing tactics. The thing that matters is the content and not the form at all. Only the shallow-minded can maintain that those who consent to sit in a government together with men appointed by bourgeois parties thereby abandon or ‘betray’ the class struggle. In reality they are waging the class struggle where they have been instructed to do so by the vote and the confidence of their militant Socialist comrades. The Socialist minister can wage the class struggle with as much energy as the delegate of a strike committee appointed by his comrades to settle a labour dispute. And just as the delegate in question cannot always obtain complete satisfaction, and is often obliged to return to his committee with proposals which only half-satisfy its members, so the Socialist minister gets what he can for his supporters according to the strength of the support he finds in the country. Like most strikes, the discussions in the Cabinet conducted by Socialist ministers lead to compromises, more or less advantageous, according to circumstances, for the working class. Would it have been possible to obtain more? In order to answer this question we must draw a distinction between two things: the personal qualities of the Socialist ministers, [73] and the objective situation.

It is obviously the latter which matters most. If they are obliged to conclude compromises it is because they are not in power alone, and they are not in power alone because Socialism has not yet won over the majority of the electors. And even where they have a majority of the people behind them (as in certain Scandinavian countries) they are hampered by the insufficient development of the economic system, which does not permit them to introduce Socialism from one day to the next — something which, in any case, no Socialist party ever promised to do. In the first case they are led to a compromise with political reality, and in the second with economic reality. It was reserved for Bolshevism to denounce as treason the impossibility of running the 100 metres in five seconds, when the world record, in any case very difficult to emulate, is almost twice as much.

However — and this is the ‘knock-out’ argument of the ‘anti-participationists’ — there are resolutions of international congresses (Paris in 1900 and Amsterdam in 1904) which, they say, categorically condemn the participation of Socialists in bourgeois governments. Let us take a look at the text of the Amsterdam resolution, which merely repeats the gist of the Paris resolution:

Social-Democracy may not seek any participation in the government of bourgeois society, in conformity with the Kautsky resolution adopted by the international congress in Paris in 1900.

However, in his speech to the Amsterdam Congress, Karl Kautsky stressed that one should not pass a general condemnation of all Socialist participation in a bourgeois government, and that the formula ‘may not seek’ did not signify an absolute injunction against agreeing to such participation. He recalled that the Paris resolution regarded Socialist participation in the government as a source of danger and embarrassment, but also as a sacrifice which it would not always be possible to avoid. [74]

Kautsky was not the only one to think like that. On 6 July 1899, Rosa Luxemburg, discussing and condemning the entry of Millerand into the Waldeck–Rousseau Cabinet, declared:

No doubt there may be moments in the development, or rather the decline of bourgeois society, when the complete taking over of power by the representatives of the workers is not yet possible, but when, nevertheless, their participation in a bourgeois government would appear necessary. Such a moment, for instance, would be when the liberty of the country or the democratic achievements of the people, such as the Republic, are called into question, at a moment, for instance, when the bourgeois government itself is too compromised and already too disorganised to persuade the people to follow it without the support of the representatives of the working class. In such a case, of course, the representatives of the working people would not have the right for love of abstract principle to refuse to defend the common cause. [75]

In order to understand the circumspection of Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg we must recall the situation in which Socialism found itself at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Both in France and in Great Britain, the only two great democratic countries in Europe, Socialism was still very weak on the parliamentary field. In Germany, where the Social-Democratic Party had polled more than three million votes out of a total of 9.5 millions in the election of 1903, [76] the semi-absolutist regime excluded all possibility of participation. Participation could not be envisaged except under circumstances when, in nine cases out of ten, the Socialist ministers would be the hostages of their bourgeois colleagues.

By the end of the World War the situation had radically changed. Europe had become democratic. The strength of the Socialist parties had very considerably increased. [77] Socialism judged, with very good reason, that the period of ‘hostages’ was past, and that it was now strong enough to exercise a considerable, if not decisive influence on the government. However, it was nowhere strong enough to take over power alone. The immaturity of the masses, of which only a part had declared themselves for Socialism, and that very often by instinct rather than by knowledge and reflection, reflected the immaturity of capitalism for immediate and complete socialisation. In this situation three possibilities were open to the working class:

1: To share power with bourgeois parties whilst waiting until they had won over a majority of the electorate.

2: To entrench themselves in intransigent opposition and decline the responsibilities of power until the situation was ripe.

3: To try to seize power by force.

This last solution, which fascinates the extreme left wing of the working-class movement, and not only the Communist parties, had little chance of achieving anything worthwhile. An armed insurrection carried out against or without the expressed consent of the majority of the people, opens the path to Socialism only in the minds of Blanquists and other incorrigible utopians. But even in power alone, ruling by terror, and no longer hampered by the resistance of their bourgeois colleagues, the Socialist ministers, or commissars of the people, would still find themselves face to face with hard economic reality, peremptorily forbidding the immediate establishment of Socialism. [78]

The second solution, that of remaining in opposition, offered no more promising perspectives, though it might be conceivable in countries where the parliamentary representation of Socialism was still relatively feeble — in France, for example, until a few years ago. However, when a Socialist party has between 40 and 45 per cent of the seats in parliament it is impossible for it to abstain from participation except at the price of feebly handing over power to a bourgeois coalition in which the extreme Right would have every chance of seizing the principal levers of government and weakening democracy. Such an uncompromising opposition could, its advocates claim, upset all ministerial stability, cause one crisis after the other, and thus hasten what they call the ‘decomposition of the regime’.

It obviously might do that in many cases, but it would not thereby advance the cause of Socialism one step. In provoking the ‘decomposition’ of a political democratic regime, it would in no wise accelerate the development of the economic system, whose maturity is the primary condition for the realisation of Socialism. All it does is to contribute to the discrediting of democracy, which represents a further essential condition of Socialism, and in discrediting democracy in the eye of the masses, it would retard their political development.

Nothing remains in practice but the first solution: Socialist participation in the government, in spite of all the risks attached to it. These risks would be all the greater where the working class was divided, where one fraction of Socialism in opposition was opposed to another fraction participating in power, whose influence would thereby naturally be diminished. [79] We may, of course, hold more or less sceptical views on the possibilities of usefulness offered to a Socialist party by participation in a coalition government. In this connection Henri de Man expresses the following opinion, which may at first sight seem a little strange:

Precisely in a stage of development in which the political influence of the working class has been considerably strengthened, we may expect more Socialist reforms from bourgeois governments than from Socialist governments, though this naturally does not contradict the fact that the drive towards these reforms is always in direct proportion to the strength of the working-class parties. [80]

Many examples in support of this theory might actually be cited, but that is not the point. The necessity for Socialist participation in power arises, as we have already said, at that moment when the Socialist party is represented by a strength in parliament which really counts; in which case it cannot refuse to share power without the risk of allowing the Fascist reaction to establish itself and prepare to annihilate democracy. With regard to the winning of reforms, even if we agree with de Man that reforms may sometimes be more easily won in opposition than in power, it is no less certain that the application of social laws once voted is often sabotaged by purely bourgeois governments, whilst on the contrary they are better administered by governments in which Socialists participate.

To those who constantly insist that a policy of coalition in the government is contrary to Marxist principles, we can only reply that it is one of the forms which can be taken by the class struggle in given circumstances, and that in democratic regimes it makes itself more and more necessary during the whole of that period when the organised working class is already too strong to leave the governmental field entirely in the hands of its enemies, but not yet strong enough to affirm, to use the expression coined by Kautsky in his polemic against Bernstein, its ‘supremacy’. This, of course, does not at all mean that Socialist parties should pursue such a policy at all costs, no matter in what conditions, no matter how, and no matter for what ends. Everything depends on the programme such a party proposes to carry out in power. [81] However, in democratic countries it will be the rule rather than the exception.

The transformation of the capitalist regime makes participation more and more a necessity so long as Socialism has not arrived at the ‘supremacy’ which will give it the freedom of action it needs. However, for their rational development, all far-reaching economic changes need social peace and the operation of the pacific pressure exerted by the opposing classes. This would be made quite impossible by civil war. We shall deal at greater length with this question in the concluding chapter of this book.

VII: The Degeneration of Bolshevism

In view of the fact that the degeneration of Bolshevism, both in Russia and on the international field, is interpreted by many people as an experimental demonstration of the failure of Marxism, we are compelled to devote a few pages to a critical examination of this viewpoint.

In its origin Bolshevism was indisputably a branch of Marxist thought. We have already seen, however, that the particular conditions in which it was called upon to work from the very beginning imposed on it a policy which was tantamount to a relapse into Blanquism. Its success in Central and Western Europe after the World War was due to the awakening of those masses of workers who up to then had been on the outskirts of the working-class movement only, and who were subject to those blind reactions which are the basis of action for ‘active minorities’.

In this period the parties affiliated to the Communist International really reflected the state of mind of an important fraction of the working class, whose will they represented. The influence of Moscow and the action of these masses mutually complemented each other. In fact, we might even ask ourselves whether the putschist ravages would not have been still greater but for the influence of Moscow. Although the damage caused by the organisational principles of Lenin in disrupting the International was great, it is quite certain that the separate organisation of these Blanquist elements constituted to a certain extent, at any rate in those countries in which there was a great deal of social ferment, an obstacle to all-too-brainless putsches.

The masses in revolt were prepared to listen to the moderating counsels of Lenin, Trotsky and Radek, whereas the exhortations of Socialist leaders, even of left-wing Socialist leaders, fell on deaf ears. It was thanks to the persuasion of Radek that in December 1919 the Austrian Communists themselves condemned the putsch they had launched in Vienna on 15 June of the same year, although, speaking in the name of the immense majority of the national congress of workers’ councils, Fritz Adler had warned them against it in vain. And it was Lenin in person who, after the disastrous rising in Central Germany in March 1921, said to Wilhelm Koenen, one of those responsible: ‘You ought to have your head chopped off — if you had one.’ And in 1922 it was Trotsky who tried to muzzle the wordy intransigence of a strong fraction of the French Communist Party.

However, the principles of rigid organisation, demanding blind obedience, ended by getting the upper hand of all political considerations. Paul Levi, the best known and most intelligent leader of the German Communist Party, the friend and collaborator of Rosa Luxemburg, was expelled for having publicly denounced the criminal activities carried out by irresponsible agents of the underground organisation of the German Communist Party in 1921. Lenin supported Paul Levi fundamentally, but Levi had committed a breach of discipline, and his expulsion, decreed by the Central Committee of the German Communist Party, was confirmed by the subsequent congress of the Communist International. Organisational principles über alles! At the national congress of the German Communist Party which took place at Jena in August 1921, Paul Levi made his last effort in concert with Clara Zetkin. Having no access to the congress he drew up together with Clara the resolutions presented by her to the congress, which were, however, rejected by a large majority.

It was in 1921 that the fate of the Communist International was decided. Born of an alliance of Russian Bolshevist ideology and the much more democratic conceptions of the extreme left-wing Socialists in Central and Western Europe, it represented in origin a compromise between the two tendencies. The German Spartakists tolerated the split in the International, but they did not desire it themselves. During the first years of the Communist International, and in spite of the personal intervention of ‘Grey Eminences’, often disowned by Lenin and Trotsky, the sections of the International were free to take their own decisions within the framework of those resolutions adopted by the international congresses. At first these resolutions were drafted and voted upon with full liberty of discussion. If the Russian delegation often took a predominating part in the drafting of them, that was a result of the immense moral prestige of the Russian Revolution (’the Russians have made their revolution; they have a right to give us others lessons...’) and of the exceptional stature of the men who made up their delegations.

However, in 1921 a desire to establish Bolshevist hegemony made itself felt for the first time, not with regard to personages, but with regard to principles, and principles of organisation. In January a split took place in the Italian Socialist Party, which up to then, the ‘reformists’ Turati and Trèves included, had been affiliated to the Communist International. This split came about as a result of the refusal of the great majority of the Italian Socialist Party to put the famous ‘Twenty-One Conditions’ into operation, which would have meant the expulsion of the said ‘reformists’. And then in the summer of 1921, still in the name of Bolshevist discipline, followed the expulsion of Paul Levi and his friends grouped around the review Unser Weg. [82]

This was the first clash between the two tendencies which made up the Communist International. The Communists of Western Europe had hoped that in contact with European reality Bolshevism would be modified, would ‘Luxemburgise’ itself. [83] They were compelled to admit that their hopes were in vain. The principles of Bolshevism penetrated more and more into the mass parties of Western Europe on which the Luxemburgists had relied for support, believing that they would prove the best antidote to the Leninist spirit. There is no cause whatever for surprise at the failure of these hopes. Luxemburgism regards the spontaneous action of unorganised masses, gradually awakening to political consciousness, as the specific form of proletarian revolution. However, this action, because it is spontaneous, calls for a directive centre with dictatorial prerogatives. The spontaneity of Rosa Luxemburg, as opposed though it may seem to the totalitarianism of Lenin, is in reality only its complement. Lenin, too, counted upon the spontaneity of unorganised masses. However, whilst Lenin regarded the process from the height of his professional and infallible central committee, Rosa Luxemburg, more Marxist, regarded the same process from below, from the real mass basis of the movement.

To put it briefly, the uneducated masses set in movement by the situation which arose in Western Europe just after the World War, proved by their acts that their chaotic and spontaneous movements had nothing whatever to do with the Socialist revolution. They proved it by accepting the organisational principles of Bolshevism in spite of all the efforts and in spite of the indisputable intellectual superiority of Paul Levi’s arguments.

In a polemic against Paul Levi, Clara Zetkin dealt with the danger, already pointed out in 1918 by Rosa Luxemburg, of the mechanical transfer of Bolshevist methods and principles to the working-class movement outside Russia. In her opinion the fears expressed on this point were ‘senseless’ [84] because the particular facts of the Russian Revolution had been determined by the specific conditions of Russian society and therefore would not be reproduced everywhere according to one and the same pattern. She was cruelly deceiving herself. The masses organised in the Communist parties, insufficiently enlightened as they were, accepted the principles of the Bolshevists. And the degeneration of Bolshevism manifested itself in the consolidation of an increasingly irresponsible bureaucratic dictatorship, [85] and ended by transforming the desire of the Bolshevists for ideological hegemony, into an insatiable thirst for domination as such. It stopped at nothing, neither material corruption, nor, more recently, murder. [86] In place of a control of the national sections by an international executive committee freely elected at world congresses, came the dictatorship of the Russian state over the foreign Communist parties.

The world congress of 1924 sounded the death knell of the Communist International. What has since existed under this name is nothing but a domesticated annexe of the Russian machinery of state, as foreign to the interests of the international working class as any consulate of any totalitarian state. Under the pretext of restoring the fighting force of the Communist parties outside Russia, which at that time were obviously in decline, they were subjected to a proceeding called ‘Bolshevisation’, the object of which was to strip them of their own revolutionary traditions and to refashion them in the image of the Russian Bolshevist Party. Two years after the publication of her book, the Bolshevist leaders disavowed Clara Zetkin in a brusque and humiliating fashion, and ‘Leninism’, up to that time unknown, was now proclaimed the official religion of the Communist International. We say advisedly religion, and not doctrine, because freedom of thought was suppressed, and persecutions began against those recalcitrants who admitted their failure to understand the explanations with which Zinoviev, Bukharin and Béla Kun tried to define ‘Leninism’ as against a phantom described as ‘Trotskyism’. [87] From then on blind obedience became the supreme law even in questions of pure theory. Communists were no longer permitted to think for themselves; they had to accept a creed blindly. [88]

Everyone knows what the ‘Communist’ parties have since become. Although ‘Marxism-Leninism’ is still inscribed on their façade, their activity has in reality nothing to do with any doctrine at all. They execute the orders of a bloody despot, who has anointed himself ‘great leader of the world proletariat’ — leader of a world proletariat whose immense majority abhor him and have never shown the slightest desire to have him as a leader. The Communist parties embrace the least enlightened sections of the working class, the least ripe for their emancipation because they are more inclined to abandon freedom of thought and of criticism and expression at the behest of leaders who are not chosen by themselves.

They can attract only those who prefer blind obedience to reason; only slothful minds prepared to believe every lie told to them about the so-called Soviet paradise; only people who are not astonished to hear elections called free in which there are only official candidates and which take place under a regime of bloody terror; only people who display no surprise at hearing a regime called ‘a model democracy’ in which there is only one party in power and all the others are in prison; only people who are not shocked to hear ‘the building up of Socialism’ claimed for a country in which Socialist thought has been proscribed, persecuted and stifled for 20 years in the ‘polit-isolators’, and who are, finally, not embarrassed to hear confessions extorted from political prisoners which are manifestly in contradiction to the known and verifiable facts. [89]

More than half of the influence of the Communist parties on a section of the working class rests on the gigantic Russian imposture, the most monstrous in the history of mankind. This imposture is made still more monstrous by the systematic vilification of all those people who dare to tell the truth about Russia, [90] by a campaign of calumny and intimidation to defame the opponents of Bolshevism by every possible means, and to defile the memory of its victims killed usually by a bullet in the back of the head — by untruthfully and unscrupulously denouncing them as ‘agents of the Gestapo’.

Such a party has nothing whatever in common with Marxism. It might embrace a fraction of the working class, but it could never be a working-class party in the sense in which this term has been used since the beginning of the modern, working-class movement. Many workers have even strayed into the ranks of Hitler’s party, and it calls itself a workers’ party, but this does not prevent its being what we know it is.

In the period before ‘unity of action’ became the fashionable slogan of the Communist International, all those Socialists who remained faithful to the democratic spirit were denounced as ‘Social Fascists’. Quite recently Dimitrov revived this piece of abuse, in spite of ‘unity of action’.

Since they have invented the term let it be used — but for the right people. If you want to know what authentic Social Fascism, Social Fascism in flesh and blood, looks like, then cast a glance at the regime established in Russia, and at its offshoots called ‘Communist parties’.

VIII: Fascism

In so far as bourgeois critics, complacently and in bad faith adopting the Bolshevist thesis according to which Leninism is the sole authentic inheritor of the Marxist tradition, conclude from the failure of Bolshevism in Russia and on the international field that Marxism in general has failed, their arguments are, as we have just seen, easy to refute. However, the phenomenon of Fascism seems to contradict in a much more serious fashion all those tendencies to which Marxist thought has given birth during the past 50 years. In Italy, in Germany, and in still other countries, Fascism has triumphed over all the parties and groups claiming, rightly or wrongly, to be Marxist.

Since the World War capitalism has writhed in convulsions which announce its approaching end. Everything which Marx and Engels predicted concerning the historic limits of capitalism, and all that their followers, from Karl Kautsky to Rosa Luxemburg, Hilferding and Renner, subsequently added, are being realised today before our eyes. [91] The objective conditions for the Socialist transformation are developing visibly, but despite this undeniable fact, the masses of the people, or at any rate an important part of these masses, seem to be taking the wrong turning. Must we assume from this that whilst Marx the economist was right, Marx the philosopher of history, the Marx to whom we owe historical materialism, was lamentably wrong? And that at the same time the whole edifice of Marxist doctrine is faulty?

Let us try to define the phenomenon of Fascism. First of all it is very important that we should make a clear distinction between the Fascist state and the Fascist movement. It is the latter only which interests us for the moment; in the following chapter we shall deal with what is called the Fascist state and the Fascist economic system. The main problem we have to elucidate here is: how is it that capitalist decadence has given rise to mass movements which, far from carrying Socialist parties to power, have destroyed them completely, and deprived them of all legal existence? It is therefore the Fascist movement which we must first define.

Fascism has often been termed ‘preventive counter-revolution’, and there is certainly some truth in this definition. The dictatorial and totalitarian tendencies of large-scale capitalism increase as the working class draws nearer to political power, whether the approach takes place by parliamentary means or by a recrudescence of revolutionary agitation. In certain moments of grave economic crisis even the maintenance of already existing social legislation becomes a revolutionary act, because, in order to keep up its rate of profit, capitalism is forced to withdraw as far as possible those concessions it had been compelled to make to the working class in former times. From that angle Fascism certainly appears as a ‘preventive counter-revolution’.

However, this definition ignores another aspect of the Fascist phenomenon which is not less important. If we accepted this definition at its face value, such dictators as Primo de Rivera, Franco, Horthy, Salazar and others would also appear to be ‘Fascists’, and in this case Fascism would become a simple synonym for dictatorship. However, that would be to strip it of its real characteristics, and to abandon all attempt to analyse it effectively. The fact that some of these dictators call themselves Fascists, admire Fascism, and ape its methods, does not dispense us from the necessity of closely examining the objective social bases of their dictatorships. [92]

What distinguishes Fascism from simple counter-revolution (whether preventive or not), and what distinguishes the Fascist dictatorship from dictatorship as such, is the movement of the masses which is an integral part of the phenomenon of Fascism. Mussolini and Hitler were both carried to power by the support of an important fraction of the masses of the people. Horthy, Primo de Rivera, Franco and their like were raised to power by military coups, and with regard to Horthy and Franco, we must add the assistance of foreign capitalism. As far as we know, this essential characteristic of Fascism as a mass movement was clearly described for the first time by Heinrich Brandler at a session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany in December 1922. [93]

On the one hand, there is, of course, the will of large-scale capitalism to make an end of democracy and independent working-class organisations. On the other hand, there are the masses in a state of ferment, who unconsciously render it considerable assistance to this end. [94] We say advisedly, the will of large-scale capitalism, because nothing would be farther from the truth than to regard Fascism as a tendency of capitalism as a whole. [95]

Fascism is certainly a mass movement, and an anti-Marxist mass movement, and thus at first sight apparently a negation of Marxism by those very elements for which Marxism claims to speak. Could there be a more conclusive refutation?

Let us take care not to jump to too hasty conclusions. Marx certainly declared that the development of capitalism, whilst creating the objective conditions for Socialism, would also create the subjective conditions by developing the maturity of the proletariat parallel to that of capitalism, but he never said that the development of the proletariat to maturity, the subjective factor, would take place from one day to the next, and he even foresaw long periods of delay. [96] Have those who complain of ‘the lack of maturity’ of the working class ever asked themselves whether capitalism is already sufficiently ripe to give birth to Socialist society? Can we really demand that all the victims of capitalism in decline should become ‘one hundred per cent’ Socialists when the capitalist economic system is still far from lending itself to a ‘one hundred per cent’ socialisation? One thing is not possible without the other. The immaturity of a very considerable fraction of the workers only corresponds with the immaturity of capitalism. This statement may please or displease, but it is nevertheless a fact. And far from refuting Marxist theory, it confirms it.

The Socialist transformation of the economic system is the first revolution in human history in which the actors, the human beings involved, know what they are doing and why they are doing it. [97] All preceding revolutions were characterised by the fundamental fact that the revolutionaries harboured illusions concerning the nature of the new birth it was their mission to deliver from the womb of the old society in labour. The first Christians of antiquity, the religious communist sects of the Middle Ages, and the heroes of 1789, all accomplished an historic mission very different from what they had imagined. And to the extent to which they were successful, they assisted in the birth of a new society very different from their utopian aspirations. Thanks to Marx we know today in what direction capitalism is developing, and to what it must give birth. One important section of the working class has already grasped this truth, and it has grasped it so well, and its Socialist ideas have spread to such an extent, that even Fascist organisations are compelled to use more or less Socialist labels in order to capture the discontented but still unenlightened masses. Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to virtue.

Those discontented masses who let themselves be regimented by Fascism merit a closer examination. All observers are in agreement that the mass elements stirred up by Fascism against democracy are recruited from the middle classes (peasants included) in course of proletarianisation, from amongst the unemployed (and in particularly the very young ones), and amongst certain categories of wage-earners who have not yet reached class consciousness. On this point we must recommend those of our readers who would like more detailed documentation to the valuable book of Daniel Guérin.

We feel ourselves obliged to lay particular stress here on a fact to which, in our opinion, insufficient importance has been attached: namely, the resistance put up to the spread of Fascist ideology by those masses belonging to democratic working-class organisations, or under their influence. On the eve of Hitler’s triumph, under a reign of terror, by the sinister light of the Reichstag fire, at the last elections which were still to some extent free, the so-called Marxist block remained almost intact. A really infinitesimal percentage of the voters making up this block succumbed to Nazi agitation. Apart from an insignificant number of deserters, the clear fact remains outstanding that Fascism did not succeed in gaining any ground amongst the masses organised in the trade unions and by Social-Democracy. The masses of the people who followed the Fascist drum did not come from what was called ‘the Marxist camp’. The Fascist revolution was not supported by those who had previously been drawn into the ranks of working-class organisations and imbued with their ideology. It was supported precisely by those who had been untouched by the influence of these organisations, by those who had been neglected by these organisations, or those they had tried to win and failed.

Here we have two movements, both driven by powerful mass impulses, and both the result of capitalist decline and directed against capitalism, but in one of these movements there was consciousness of class and a deep attachment to democracy as an indispensable element of Socialism, whilst in the other there was unenlightened revolt, a blind rush, and faith in the omnipotence of a Messiah.

The existence of these two parallel movements of revolt side by side need surprise no one. In view of the lack of maturity of present-day capitalism from the standpoint of the establishment of complete Socialism, it would be more surprising if all the victims of the capitalist crisis gave proof of exemplary Socialist enlightenment. The hybrid character of the present period of transition reflects itself precisely in the rise, side by side with the enlightened masses who know more or less what they want, of other masses, hardly awakened out of their sleep, just sufficiently enlightened to know what they don’t want, and ready to fall into any trap. We are here in the presence of an anti-capitalist revolt, in which the purely instinctive and utopian movements of past revolutions reappear side by side with an enlightened movement directed towards a Socialist aim, and by that very fact deeply attached to democracy — in short, the educated and organised working class. And it is the former of these two movements, the instinctive and utopian movement, which large-scale capitalism succeeds in pressing into its service and using to defend its privileges.

Was this development really so unforeseen? Even in the Manifesto of the Communist Party published in 1847, Marx and Engels predicted that a section of the masses, the ‘Lumpen-proletariat’, were inclined ‘far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue’. [98]

And in 1892 Karl Kautsky wrote as follows describing the mentality of the newly-proletarianised elements:

This mentality is not yet dead. There is a tendency towards it in every proletarian stratum which prepares itself to enter the ranks of the fighting proletariat; it shows itself in every country whose proletariat is just beginning to realise how unworthy and intolerable its situation is, and to become Socialist, without, however, yet having any clear view of social conditions, and without having sufficient confidence in itself to wage a protracted class struggle. Seeing that more and more countries are being drawn into the capitalist mode of production and becoming proletarianised, it is clear that this mentality of the first utopian worker Socialists can come to the fore again and again. It is an infantile sickness which threatens every young proletarian Socialist movement which has not yet developed beyond the stage of Utopianism.

In that period these unenlightened strivings took on the forms of Anarchism and Blanquism, but just after the World War they poured themselves into the Bolshevist mould. Nothing of this is absolutely new in history. What characterises the revolutions of the past is precisely the fact that the masses engaged in revolutionary action were pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for a new minority of exploiters who were preparing to take the place of the old dominant class whose regime had outlived its day. These revolutions destroyed the shell of the old society and revealed the new economic and social structure which had risen within it. Is that perhaps what is happening today with Fascist ‘revolutions'? We shall see in the following chapter.

There is, however, if we except the history of ancient Rome, a new factor: a section of the privileged class deliberately uses these declassed elements and those in course of being proletarianised, provides them with funds and completes their corruption.

The Fascist movement is not merely a movement of suddenly declassed masses; it is also a movement of mercenaries. It is chronic unemployment which creates the reservoir from which Fascism preferably draws its mercenaries. In those countries which have suffered for many years from widespread and chronic unemployment, the unemployed begin to form a special class, very similar to the proletariat of antiquity, which, according to Sismondi’s definition, had to be maintained by society, whereas the modern proletariat maintained society. Long years of enforced idleness create a special mentality which finally expresses itself in the demand ‘Bread and Circuses’. Just as in ancient Rome the proletariat was recruited by the cliques and fractions engaged in the struggle for power, so in our own day a large fraction of the permanently unemployed workers has been enrolled in Fascist bands.

The masses set in movement by the Fascist leaders are thus composed of the most diverse elements; of all sorts of victims of capitalism, still insufficiently enlightened, still outside the influence of working-class organisations, and finally turning against these organisations. They rush blindly to the assault, take the citadel of power, and install their ‘leader’ in it. Revolution or counter-revolution? Fascism is, for good or ill, a revolutionary movement, at least with regard to the masses. However, those who pull the strings behind it are obviously following other aims. This has always been the case in history; in most of the revolutions of the past, the leaders of the movement had aims other than those of their followers.

Fascism is thus a revolutionary movement in the sense of past history. Chemists know that certain substances ‘in a nascent state’ react differently to the same stimulus than when they are fully constituted. It is the same with the masses pauperised by capitalism.

Let us try as far as possible to analyse the distinctive and essential traits of these two anti-capitalist movements (the Socialist and trade-union movement on the one hand and the Fascist movement on the other), whose hostility and whose clash so tragically characterises the period in which we are living.

I: With regard to Socialism and trade unionism we have:

(a) A clear consciousness of its Socialist aim, the knowledge of the end towards which existing society is moving; there is no longer, as in the revolutions of the past, any discrepancy between the professed aims of the movement and the objective aim of social development.

(b) The conscious limitation of action in accordance with what the existing order can objectively permit at each given stage of its development; thanks to historical materialism and an analysis of the capitalist economic system it is now possible to determine the aims capable of immediate attainment in accordance with the maturity of each stage of capitalist development.

(c) The evident desire to avoid any violent clash between the opposing classes, to avoid above all the outbreak of civil war, and to see that the necessary transformation takes place legally and by democratic means; [99] this desire is dictated above all by the recognition, unquestionably justified, that civil war leads to dictatorship and destroys all possibility of progress towards Socialism, which is inconceivable without democracy.

(d) More humane and more civilised methods of action; scientific Socialism has taught the workers that their enemies are not this or that person, not ‘the industrialist A’ or ‘the banker B’, but the capitalist system itself, whence follows the rejection of terrorist acts and individual violence. The liquidation of individuals cannot solve the social problem.

II: With regard to the Fascist masses we have:

(a) Vague Socialist aspirations coupled with a mystic nationalist exaltation, an absolute ignorance of the tendencies which determine the development of the existing order of society; utopian ideas in complete discord with economic necessities, giving rise to a discrepancy between the purely imaginary subjective aims, and the objective aim of historical development.

(b) An absolute inability to determine what is possible and at the same time necessary at a given moment.

(c) Demagogic incitement openly striving towards civil war, and undeterred by the prospect of violence; this is the direct result of a profound ignorance of economic, social and historical questions. [100]

(d) Mediaeval methods, stamped with horrible cruelty and sadism; all Fascist agitation is accompanied by innumerable acts of terrorist violence against individuals and aims at the physical extermination of its enemies.

This comparison clearly reveals the enormous amount of educational work accomplished during the past 50 years by trade-union and Socialist organisations. From a mob which once reacted as the masses now being dragged along in the wake of Fascism react, these organisations have become associations of free and enlightened men, understanding the real possibilities and the conditions of their emancipation. However, this intellectual and moral force was, it is true, also a cause of their weakness in face of the assault carried out by masses brought to white heat by Fascist demagogy, as we have seen in countries where Fascism has made unscrupulous use of every possible weapon and crushed them in an unequal battle. [101]

But yet another point arises from this comparison. In the light of the characteristics we have examined above, the Fascist movement appears as a movement of declassed and recently proletarianised elements whose reactions are very similar to those of the uneducated working men of a century ago. In the one case as in the other we have violence with no clearly defined objective, a blind revolt purely negative and destructive, and total ignorance of the causes of poverty and the means to abolish it. What caused the defeat of the working-class organisations, both trade-union and Socialist, in the countries where Fascism has triumphed, was the growing process of proletarianisation accelerated by the economic crisis. People have often spoken of the political errors committed by these organisations, which are said to have driven a part of the disillusioned masses into the Fascist camp. It is indisputable that very grave errors indeed were committed. However, we must ask ourselves whether it was really these errors which caused the disaster, or whether it was not rather the impossibility of these organisations, even if they had pursued the best policy in the world, of attracting and assimilating in a few years that avalanche of newly-proletarianised elements whose Socialist and trade-union education really required long and patient labour.

If Fascism has proved anything, it is certainly not ‘the failure of Marxism’, but rather the folly of those ‘Marxists’ who imagined that both capitalism and the proletariat were sufficiently mature to make possible the establishment of a Socialist society at one blow. Minerva springing, fully armed, from the brain of Jupiter — the vision is certainly captivating, but sociology is not mythology, and Marxist science has nothing to do with fortune telling. The only misfortune is that some fortune tellers, believing themselves to be Marxists, provide the enemies of Marxism with valuable weapons gratis.


1. Rosa Luxemburg, Die Akkumulation des Kapitals: ein Beitrag zur Erkla?rung des Imperialismus (Buchhandlung Vorwärts Paul Singer, Berlin, 1913); Rudolf Hilferding, Das Finanzkapital (Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchandlung, Vienna, 1910).

2. See Part II of the first chapter of this book.

3. We should be very curious to hear what arguments can be put forward against the recent demonstration of Fritz Sternberg in his article ‘Chronic Unemployment, Technical Progress and the Conquest of New Markets’, published in the International Labour Review in October 1937.

4. It is true that Sombart is trying to provide a different explanation, and one that might have a certain amount of justification, for the period in question, but his facts nevertheless confirm Marx’s theory, see Werner Sombart, L'Apogée du Capitalisme (Payot, Paris, 1932).

5. See our remarks on the trade-union theories of Rosa Luxemburg at the end of the preceding chapter of this book.

6. See Documentation économique et sociale (Dossé, Paris, 1935).

7. The observations of J Duret on this subject in his work Le Marxisme et les crises (Gallimard, Paris, 1933) seem to us to be absolutely correct.

8. See our book Économie dirigée et socialisation, Part III (Édition de L'Églantine, Paris, 1934).

9. We are told again and again that Marx knew nothing of the credit system, thanks to which capital could ‘decentralise’ itself contrary to his predictions. Let us rebut these allegations once and for all by pointing out that a very important section of his Capital deals with the credit system. ‘Credit’, he writes, ‘represents the specific machinery for the centralisation of capital.’

10. See Karl Kautsky, Die agrarische Frage (Dietz, Stuttgart, 1899). Working independently of Kautsky, Emile Vandervelde arrived about the same time at practically identical conclusions.

11. Jakob Walcher, Ford oder Marx? Die praktische Lösung der sozialen Frage (Neuer Deutscher Verlag, Berlin, 1925).

12. This work, which was first published in 1892, is still of burning interest even today, and we recommend a study of it to all those who desire to familiarise themselves with the essential ideas of Marxism.

13. See Nouveau Cahiers, no 13, 1 November 1937, pp 6-7.

14. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 27, p 522. As is shown by the context of the passage quoted, Marx is regarding credit here as the basis of the joint-stock system.

15. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 27, pp 520-22.

16. The law in other countries, although perhaps better in this respect than French law, leads nevertheless to similar abuses.

17. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 27, pp 519-20.

18. Friedrich Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (edited by EM Aveling, Swan, Sonnenschein, London, 1896). The articles published under this title were at first ascribed to Marx, but are now known to have been the work of Engels — Translator.

19. The attitude of certain German Social-Democratic leaders towards Georges Weill, one of the Reichstag deputies for Alsace, who was serving as a volunteer in the French army, may be described simply as base.

20. Marx describes the idea of opposing war with a general strike as ‘stupidity’. See his letter to Engels dated 13 September 1868. See also Franz Mehring’s Karl Marx (John Lane, London, 1936), p 403, and Karl Kautsky, Sozialisten und Krieg (Orbis, Prague, 1937), pp 180-85.

21. The voluminous documentation collected by Karl Kautsky in his last book Sozialisten und Krieg (Orbis, Prague, 1937) permits no further doubt on this point. The resolutions of all international Socialist congresses up to the outbreak of the World War bear witness to it.

22. No one in the International dreamed of calling Jean Jaurès a ‘social traitor’ for having written his L'armée nouvelle.

23. The passage quoted is to be found in the guiding principles adopted by the Spartakist League during the World War.

24. See Lenin and Zinoviev, Gegen den Strom: Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1914-1916 (Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale, Hamburg, 1921).

25. See in particular on this point Rosa Luxemburg’s Die russische Revolution (Verlag Gesellschaft und Erziehung, Berlin, 1922), and the criticism of her point of view by Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg und der Bolschewismus (1922).

26. Leninist practice is thus reconciled with Rosa Luxemburg’s theory, though this does not prevent the Bolshevists, with their customary good faith, from violently denouncing ‘the errors of Luxemburgism’.

27. The arguments advanced by Boris Souvarine and Fernand Loriot in 1925 against the stupid and criminal policy of the Communist Party in the Riff war, have lost none of their force today.

28. Letter quoted by Karl Kautsky in his study Die Befreiung der Nationen (Dietz, Stuttgart, 1917), p 9.

29. Preface to a new edition of a booklet by Sigismond Borkheim, quoted by Ernst Drahn in his book Engels Brevier Erinnerungsblätter herausgegeben zu seinem 100jährigen Geburtstage (Verlag der Arbeiter-Buchhandlung, Vienna, 1920). This preface is dated 1888.

30. Rosa Luxemburg, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Bern, Unionsdruckerei, 1916).

31. See the remarkable book by Karl Kautsky, Sozialisten und Krieg (Orbis, Prague, 1937).

32. In his speech in 1917 before the tribunal which condemned him to be hanged for having killed Count Stürgkh, President of the Council of Austria, in October 1916.

33. The Majority Socialists in Germany were, however, far from being completely imbued with social chauvinism. Their ranks included a strong left-wing fraction whose ideas approximated to those of the Independent Socialists, but who hated the split and refused to take part in it.

34. It is not without interest to compare this standpoint of the extreme right wing of the Socialist movement with that of Bukharin, the official theoretician of Bolshevism, who also attributed the greater part of those phenomena of capitalist decline then observable to the shock of war. See on this subject Bukharin’s report to the Enlarged Executive of the Communist International in November 1926, and the criticism of that report by Karl Radek. The former was published in the International Press Correspondence in 1926, and the latter in the Russian press. See also our pamphlet published in 1928 under the pen-name ‘Primus’, L'imperialisme et la decadence capitaliste (Libraire du Travail, Paris, 1928).

35. In connection with the unity congress in Lyons in 1901 Rosa Luxemburg wrote as follows in Die Neue Zeit: ‘A serious party does not split over newspaper articles or isolated political side-slips. However, if treason towards the fundamental principles of Socialism were systematically practised by a fraction of that party, then any serious party would say, as Marx said 30 years ago in the International: ‘Rather open war than shameful peace.’ And referring to the subject of the unification of the Marxists and the Lassalleans in Germany in 1878, she wrote: ‘If the Lassalleans, like the followers of Jaurès today, had acted in concert with the Conservatives and the National Liberals against the Eisenachers there would have been no question of unification.’ (Rosa Luxemburg, Sozialreform oder Revolution?, Vulkanverlag, Leipzig, 1919)

36. Karl Kautsky, Sozialisten und Krieg (Orbis, Prague, 1937), pp 475-76.

37. Three Independents, Haase, Dittmann and Barth, and three Majority Socialists, Ebert, Scheidemann and Landsberg, formed the government.

38. Die Rote Fahne, the central organ of the Spartakus League and afterwards of the Communist Party of Germany — Translator.

39. According to information received at the time, but whose absolute authenticity we cannot guarantee, at the beginning of November 1918 Moscow was urging the immediate formation of Communist Parties in Austria and Hungary, with the main object of forcing the hands of the German Spartakists, amongst whom serious resistance was showing itself against the formation of an autonomous party. What is quite certain, however, is that such resistance was beginning to show itself in the extreme left wing of Austrian Social-Democracy. The ‘Left-Wing Radicals’ of Austria did not take part in the founding of the Austrian Communist Party; one section of them joined it several days after its formation, and another section (led by Josef Strasser and Anna Stroemer) joined it only several months later.

40. A meeting of French Fascists was held in a hall in Clichy, a predominantly working-class suburb of Paris. A demonstration outside the hall came into conflict with a detachment of the Garde Mobile protecting the meeting. The Garde Mobile opened fire and many workers were killed — Translator.

41. On 12 April 1890 in a letter to his friend Sorge on the German situation, Engels wrote: ‘... electoral success has turned the heads of the masses, particularly the new recruits, and they now think they will be able to get everything they want at one blow. Unless the brake is put on there will be a lot of foolery. And the bourgeoisie... are doing their utmost to encourage and provoke this foolery...’ (Briefe und Auszu?ge aus Briefen von Johann Philipp Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx und anderen an FA Sorge und andere (Dietz Nachfolger, Stuttgart, 1906), p 334) Let us hope that the French working class of today will grasp the full import of this warning.

42. We must take good care not to criticise the German Social-Democratic Party for happenings for which it was not solely responsible. To the extent to which this or that attitude of compromise or inactivity was dictated to it by the reactionary will of the victorious powers, French Socialists have no right to heap reproaches on it. French Socialists ought, in the name of international solidarity, if not in the name of common decency, to refrain from condemnation, because their own weakness was one of the reasons for the failure of the German Socialists. The pressure exercised by the Allied governments on the German revolution, which was reminiscent of the happenings of 1871, should, in any case, give the impenitent ‘defeatists’ in France and elsewhere cause for reflection.

43. In the neutral countries, which were, of course, much less affected by the sufferings and privations of the World War, the awakening of the unorganised proletarian masses was less sudden and their assimilation easier, with the result that their Blanquist tendencies, less strong in any case, gradually died out on their own. In Austria the Blanquist tendencies were rendered harmless, thanks to the great ability of the Social-Democratic leaders and to the great personal prestige of Fritz Adler, and because the Communist Party of Austria had no leaders of any importance.

44. This widespread awakening of proletarian masses previously unorganised strikingly confirms the predictions made in 1906 by Rosa Luxemburg: ‘And when conditions in Germany have arrived at the degree of maturity necessary for such a period, these elements, today backward and without organisation, will naturally be the most radical and the most redoubtable elements in the struggle, and they will not be dragged along in the wake of the movement. If mass strikes take place in Germany it will almost certainly not be the better-organised workers... who will display the greatest capacity for action, but the less well-organised workers, or those not organised at all, for instance, miners, textile workers, and perhaps even agricultural workers.’ (Rosa Luxemburg, Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften (Dubber, Hamburg, 1906)) Now these predictions have certainly been strikingly confirmed, but this spontaneity of the unorganised masses is really an indication of their lack of maturity, and not at all, as Rosa Luxemburg believed, the specific form of the proletarian revolution.

45. Manifesto, Theses and Resolutions of the First Congress of the Communist International.

46. There is no lack of examples. In Germany, ‘Leftists’ like Lensch and Cunow went over at the beginning of the World War into the camp of the social patriots, whilst Bernstein, ‘the father of reformism’, joined up with Kautsky and the Independent Socialists. In Italy, Turati and Trèves, both moderate Socialists, showed an internationalist spirit for which Cachin and his like might well envy them. In France, where the followers of Jaurès were generally considered as the ‘right wing’, and the followers of Guesde as the ‘left wing’, not all the followers of Jaurès became social patriots, and not all the followers of Guesde remained faithful to the spirit of internationalism.

47. Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Band 3, 4, 6 (Vereinigung Internationaler Verlag-Anstalten, Berlin, 1923, 1925, 1928) Only Volumes 3, 4 and 6 have as yet been published. The three other volumes, 1, 2 and 5, will have to wait a long time for publication, because degenerate Bolshevism, not content with bespattering the memory of Rosa Luxemburg, does everything in its power to prevent the workers from reading what she wrote and profiting by her teachings.

48. International Press Correspondence, January 1928.

49. Such seems to us to be the case with regard to Leon Trotsky, who, although formerly in agreement with Martov and Rosa Luxemburg, was, in the last years of his life, the only upholder of authentic Bolshevism in spite of all the excommunications thundered against him by Stalin.

50. This distortion goes so far that now certain ‘leftist’ Communists denounce as ‘counter-revolutionary’ all demands and all activity short of the final objective of the conquest of political power and the complete transformation of capitalist economy. Whoever strives to obtain reforms, even without renouncing the final aim of the Socialist revolution, is in their eyes a ‘reformist’. It was in vain that first Radek and then Lenin, in his famous Infantile Sickness [that is, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder — MIA], tried to make them understand the stupidity of such an attitude. This tendency was represented by the very small Heine–Lacoste group in France, by the Communist Workers Party (KAPD) in Germany, by the Bordiga fraction in Italy, and by Pannekoek and Gorter in Holland. However, we must in justice recognise that the arguments put forward by Pannekoek and Bordiga were on a high theoretical level, and one we should look for in vain to the advocates of the egregious ‘class-against-class’ tactic launched in 1928.

51. Rosa Luxemburg, Die russische Revolution (Verlag Gesellschaft und Erziehung, Berlin, 1922). See also articles by Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Nicht nach Schema F’ and ‘Die russische Tragödie’ which were published in January and September 1918 in Spartakusbriefe, Volume 2, pp 155, 185.

52. A retreat in relation to War Communism, but by no means in relation to the original programme of the Russian Bolshevists drawn up on the eve of the November Revolution.

53. ‘Reformist’ in the new sense invented by Bolshevism, and not in the sense in which the term was understood at the time of the Bernstein controversy.

54. We do not wish to be misunderstood: we are very well aware that the privileged classes would prefer a civil war to the loss of their privileges. The ‘cagoulard’ complot in France has proved it once again. However, we feel with Engels that it is up to Socialism not to let itself be caught in a trap. We shall deal with this subject in greater detail later on in this book.

55. Lenin, State and Revolution (Allen and Unwin, London, 1919).

56. See in particular Karl Kautsky, Die proletarische Revolution und ihr Programm (Dietz, Berlin, 1922).

57. See the conclusive criticism by Rosa Luxemburg in Die russische Revolution (Verlag Gesellschaft und Erziehung, Berlin, 1922).

58. We cannot resist the temptation to quote an extract here from the predictions made by Rosa Luxemburg in September 1918: ‘The suppression of political life throughout the country must gradually cause the vitality of the Soviets themselves to decline. Without general elections, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech, life in every public institution slows down and becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor... Public life gradually dies, and a few score party leaders with inexhaustible energy and limitless idealism direct and rule; amongst them the leadership is in reality in the hands of a dozen men of first-class brains, and from time to time an élite of the working class is called together in conference to applaud the speeches of their leaders and to vote unanimously for the resolutions they put forward.’ (Die russische Revolution (Verlag Gesellschaft und Erziehung, Berlin, 1922), p 113)

59. Rosa Luxemburg, Die russische Revolution (Verlag Gesellschaft und Erziehung, Berlin, 1922), particularly with regard to executions, during the last few years the world has witnessed this again and again.

60. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (Faber and Faber, London, 1937).

61. See Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Programme (Martin Lawrence, London, 1933).

62. A decision of the General Council of the First International replying to Bakunin at the instance of Marx on 9 March 1869 pointed out that the working classes in the various countries were at various stages of development, and that in consequence their practical activity found theoretical expression in very varying forms. See Franz Mehring, Karl Marx (John Lane, London, 1936), p 143.

63. The Correspondence of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Martin Lawrence, London, 1934), pp 315-16.

64. The Correspondence of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Martin Lawrence, London, 1934), pp 315-16.

65. The Correspondence of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Martin Lawrence, London, 1934), p 455.

66. Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen (Dietz, Stuttgart, 1921). This letter is not in the Selected Correspondence published by Martin Lawrence — Translator.

67. VI Lenin, Infantile Sickness. [That is, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder — MIA.]

68. Marx in a letter to Domela Nieuwenhuis on 27 February 1881.

69. Henri de Man writes very correctly on this point: ‘In place of the idea of an antagonism of interests and wills, there has developed an emotional state sympathetically assimilating all those passions which in the course of historic evolution accompany social manifestations with the instinct of combativity. The result is that the masses often go so far as to associate with the word struggle the negation of the right of members of other classes to exist at all as soon as the interests of the proletarian class seem to demand it.’ (Henri de Man, Au delà du marxisme (Édition de l'Églantine, Brussels, 1934), p 354)

70. In his preface to the first edition of Capital Marx writes: ‘To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.’

71. In his book Zehn Jahre Politischer Mord (Verlag der Neuen Gesellschaft, Berlin-Fichtenau, 1922), Dr Gumbel shows by irrefutable statistics that the political murders committed in Germany in the years 1919-29 were the work of members of political associations of the Right.

72. A proper use of Marxist dialectic is sufficient to reduce this apparent contradiction to nothing. Kautsky has done it brilliantly in his Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung, Volume 2 (Dietz, Berlin, 1927), pp 564-78.

73. In a preface to the 1920 edition of his Der Weg zur Macht (Vorwärts, Berlin, 1920) Karl Kautsky writes: ‘Socialists who let themselves be intimidated, cheated and tricked by their bourgeois colleagues, or by old brass hats or “privy councillors,” are obviously out of place in a coalition government, but the fact that a coalition policy demands firmness, intelligence and competence does not, all the same, permit anyone to stigmatise without further investigation the policy of coalition as an abandonment of every Socialist principle.’

74. The Bolshevists characterised Kautsky as a renegade in the first place by accusing him of betraying his own principles. Later, observing that his writings and speeches from 1900 onwards had left the door open for Socialist participation in the government, they even decided to proclaim him a renegade retrospectively. Lenin might in fact have denounced his ‘treason’ a little earlier.

75. Rosa Luxemburg, Sozialreform oder Revolution? (Vulkanverlag, Leipzig, 1919).

76. In France the unified Socialist party polled 1,105,000 votes in 1909 out of a total of 8,500,000 votes, or 13 per cent.

77. The following interesting figures are taken from Wladimir Woitinsky, Die Welt in Zahlen, Volume 2 (Rudolf Mosse, Berlin, 1925), p 159.

Country and Date Socialist
Representation %
Germany (1919) 185 421 44
Austria (1919) 69 169 43
Czechoslovakia (1920) 109 281 39
Belgium (1919) 70 186 38
Sweden (1920) 82 230 36
Italy (1919) 167 508 33
Great Britain (1922) 142 615 25
France (1924) 131 584 22

78. We have since seen, in Russia, that the ‘socialisation’ of an economic system which is not ripe for socialisation merely leads to the substitution of new masters for old. Let us note further that in his Infantile Sickness [that is, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder — MIA], Lenin condemns actions undertaken by ‘active minorities’ over the heads of the masses. The German Communist leaders who provoked the putsch in Central Germany in March 1921 must still writhe at the memory of the uncomplimentary epithets heaped upon them at the time by Lenin. And the Spartakus Programme drawn up by Rosa Luxemburg and adopted on 1 January 1919, declares: ‘The Spartakus League will never take power except in accordance with the clearly expressed will of the great majority of the proletarian masses of Germany, consciously supporting its ideas, aims and methods.’

79. ‘Although I maintain that in the present stage of the revolution a policy of coalition between Socialists and bourgeois becomes inevitable at certain moments, I have no intention whatever of defending the coalition policy which was practised in Germany.’ (Karl Kautsky, preface to the 1920 edition of Der Weg zur Macht (Vorwärts, Berlin, 1920))

80. Henri de Man, Au delà du marxisme (Édition de l'Églantine, Brussels, 1934), p 252. Emile Vandervelde, quoting this passage, observes that ‘there is a deal of truth in this paradox and goes on: ‘All this will naturally change on the day when the dead point of balance between the conservative and revolutionary forces is tipped in favour of the working class, which will then take not a share in power but full power, basing itself upon a solid and compact majority.’ (Emile Vandervelde, L'alternative: capitalisme d'état ou socialisme démocratique (Édition de l'Églantine, Paris, 1933), p 226)

81. We still think that the French Socialist party was right to refuse to share power in the years 1932-33, when it was asked to shoulder the responsibility for a one-sided policy of deflation condemned to failure in advance.

82. It was no accident that Paul Levi, sharing the aversion of Rosa Luxemburg for Leninist principles, found himself in February 1921 opposed to the split which had been so stupidly provoked in Italy, and resigned from the Central Committee of the German Communist Party just elected after the Halle split.

83. The word was coined by Paul Levi when expressing his views in a conversation at the time of the Jena Congress with the author Fassina, the correspondent of Avanti, and Phillips Price, the correspondent of the Daily Herald.

84. Clara Zetkin, Um Rosa Luxemburgs Stellung zur russischen Revolution (Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale, Hamburg, 1922), p 217.

85. We described this process of degeneration in our book L'Économie soviétique, which was published in 1930, but we must now frankly admit that at the time we did not expect subsequent developments to outstrip our worst apprehensions to the extent they did (Lucien Laurat, L'Économie soviétique: sa dynamique, son mécanisme (Société française d'imprimerie et de librairie, Poitiers, 1931)).

86. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Piatakov, etc, in Russia, and André Nin, Kurt Landau, Ignace Reiss, etc, in other countries.

87. After their reconciliation with Trotsky in 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev admitted openly that their former campaign against ‘Trotskyism’ had no theoretical basis and was designed solely to push Trotsky from power.

88. In the summer of 1928, writing in a leading article in l'Humanité, one of the leaders of the French Communist Party went so far as to threaten with official thunderbolts all those dissident Communists who showed themselves unwilling to ‘believe’ in the imminence of war. The imminence of war in 1928! Whosoever did not ‘believe’ was denounced as a ‘traitor’ and a ‘Trotskyist’.

89. The alleged ubiquity of Abramovich, the non-existent hotel in Copenhagen, the phantom aeroplane of Oslo, to mention only a few of the more flagrant cases.

90. And yet even the well-documented studies of Kleber Legay, André Gide and many others are understatements of the frightful reality.

91. The differences of opinion amongst his followers concerning the estimation of this or that particular detail of capitalist decadence do not interest us here.

92. ‘As, in private life, the distinction is made between what a man thinks of himself and says, and that which he really is and does, so, all the more, must the phrases and notions of parties in historic struggles be distinguished from their real organism, and their real interests, their notions and their reality.’ (Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire, Chapter 3)

93. A resolution of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in November 1922 also mentions this characteristic, but without laying any particular stress on it.

94. See our book Le développement du capitalisme et la lutte pour la démocratie (Édition de L'Églantine, Brussels, 1933).

95. In his book Fascisme et grand capital (Gallimard, Paris, 1936) Daniel Guérin brings a number of impressive arguments and proofs to show that the manufacturing industries in Italy and Germany were on the whole hostile to Fascism.

96. Speaking to the workers in 1850 after the defeat of 1848, Karl Marx declared: ‘You will have to go through 15, 20, perhaps 50 years of civil and international wars not merely in order to change conditions, but to change yourselves and make yourselves fit to take over political power.’

97. See the first chapter of this book. See also Georgi Plekhanov, Fundamental Questions of Marxism (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1937), and Georg Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein. Studien über marxistische Dialektik (Malik-Verlag, Berlin, 1923).

98. Quoted from Samuel Moore’s translation, revised by Engels. Moore renders ‘Lumpen-proletariat’ as ‘the dangerous class’ — Translator.

99. We must, of course, not confuse this desire to avoid civil war with a tendency to capitulation. Civil war can be avoided by isolating those who desire it, and by preventing them from launching the attack. See on this point Part VI of this chapter, ‘The Class Struggle and Social Peace’.

100. With regard to this point, let us recall what Karl Kautsky wrote in 1933 on the success of the Nazis in Germany: ‘Those masses of the people without political and economic knowledge, drawn into political activity only by the war and its effects, were imbued with militarist ideas and were totally ignorant of political economy. They believed that the will and political power would be sufficient to obtain for them all they desired. These desperate people entirely failed to recognise the existence of economic laws, which must be known before measures can be taken to restore the economic system to health, nor did they see the international character of the crisis, which demanded international remedies. These elements thirst for power rather than for knowledge; having no confidence in themselves they do not demand that political power should be given into their hands, but into the hands of an individual from whom they expect their salvation, that is to say, an improvement in their personal situation... In a moment like the present the strength of National Socialist propaganda is very great, particularly as since the war the militarist idea has vanquished the economic idea. A far-sighted strategist is well aware of the importance of the economic element, but the ignorant soldier believes only in the omnipotence of violence. The war with all its evil consequences has reinforced this belief amongst certain classes of the people, so that today the crassest petty-bourgeois ignorance believes itself capable of guiding the development of the state and of society without any preliminary study, and solely in accordance with its most pressing needs... To these circumstances is added the absolute necessity for radical intervention in economic life, the paralysis of parliamentary activity owing to a more or less even balance of party strength, the bankruptcy of the old political parties, the despair not only of the workers, but also of the middle classes and the intellectuals, belief in the omnipotence of violence, and the ignorance of great masses of the people, particularly the youth, with regard to economic and social questions, a phenomenon particularly striking since the World War and for which the war is largely responsible.’ (Karl Kautsky, ‘Some Causes and Effects of German National Socialism’)

101. See the illuminating book of A Rossi, La naissance du fascism. L'Italie de 1918 à 1922 (Gallimard, Paris, 1938).