Terrorism and the difficult road to a general revival of the class struggle II
ILCL - International Library of the Communist Left
[last] [home] [content] [end] [search]

If linked: [French] [German] [Italian] [Spanish]


Terrorism and the Difficult Road to a General Resurgence of the Class Struggle
The «Dress Rehearsal» of 1905
The Marxist Method and the Question of Terrorism
The Incompatibility Between Marxism and Individualist Terrorism
What Do The Masses Need?
The «Fighting Party»
In the Light of October

Terrorism and the Difficult Road to a General Resurgence of the Class Struggle
[top] [content] [next]

In the first part of this article (1) we pointed out the inadequacy of certain criticisms directed at individualist terrorism, and we referred to Lenin's polemic against the nihilists and populists in order to place this question in its proper perspective. In his long and determined struggle for the formation of the class party, Lenin had to combat both economist spontaneism and the voluntarism of the theoreticians and practitioners of violence and terror divorced from the general class struggle. Then we came to the eve of the 1905 Revolution in Russia. In such a context mass violence and terror, as a response to the needs of the revolution, assume a very precise meaning as Marxist theory has indicated from its origin.

The «Dress Rehearsal» of 1905
[prev.] [content] [next]

It is no wonder that Lenin called the Russian Revolution of 1905 the «dress rehearsal» for the 1917 revolution. In reality it was a dress rehearsal for the proletariat, which in the course of the year of upheavals experimented with all the possible forms of struggle: from demonstrations to street-fighting, from isolated and local strikes to general strikes, from urban and rural revolts to attempts at insurrection, from audacious raids on prisons and arsenals to mutinies in the army and, especially, in the navy, from immediate organisations to the formation of the first Soviets of Workers' Delegates. It was also a dress rehearsal for the party: as the struggle dramatically unfolded the party sharpened its theoretical, programmatic and tactical weapons, placing the problem of the armed insurrection (and the «art of insurrection») on the order of the day, with all that this implied not only in the realisation of insurrection but also in the preparation for it. And if the party was unable to test these weapons in the heat of events, it was able to transmit them as an intangible bequest to Red October in 1917.

Violence and terror, including that exercised by «individuals and small groups», lost their voluntarist, idealist, and «Blanquist» nature in the sequence of revolutionary events. It fell to the Bolsheviks to defend violence and terror in this precise context, opposing not only the avowed opportunists but also the revolutionaries in words, i.e. the Mensheviks and Plekhanov himself.

The revolution had barely broken out when, at the Third Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party convened at London from 17 April to 10 May 1905, (12 to 25 April by the old calendar), Lenin presented a resolution on «The Attitude of the R.S.D.L.P. Towards the Armed Uprising». Even though he later agreed to attenuate certain formulations and render others more precise, we reproduce it here:
1. Whereas the proletariat, being, by virtue of its position, the foremost and most consistent revolutionary class, is therefore called upon to play the role of leader and guide of the general democratic revolutionary movement in Russia;
2. Whereas only the performance of this role during the revolution will ensure the proletariat the most advantageous position in the ensuing struggle for socialism against the propertied classes of the bourgeois-democratic Russia about to be born; and
3. Whereas the proletariat can perform this role only if it is organised under the banner of Social-Democracy into an independent political force and if it acts in strikes and demonstrations with the fullest possible unity;
Therefore, the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. resolves that the task of organising the forces of the proletariat for direct struggle against the autocracy by means of mass political strikes and the armed uprising, and of setting up for this purpose an apparatus for information and leadership, is one of the chief tasks of the Party at the present revolutionary moment; for which reason the Congress instructs both the CC. and the local committees and leagues to start preparing the political mass strike as well as the organisation of special groups for the obtainment and distribution of arms, for the elaboration of a plan of the armed uprising and the direct leadership of the rising. The fulfilment of this task can and should proceed in such a way as will not only not in the least prejudice the general work of awakening the class-consciousness of the proletariat, but, on the contrary, will render that work more effective and successful
» (2).

It is the revolution itself that «teaches the masses of the people». For the party, the problem is to know if on its part it will be able to «teach the revolution anything» (3). As long as the workers' movement has existed the party has had the double task of arming the proletariat «with a sense of the burning necessity to arm» for its objective of seizing power, and of bringing «home to those who are conscious of it the need for organisation and planned action, the need for considering the whole political situation». In a «normal» situation, the party tempers the generous but impotent will «to mete out summary justice to the bourgeoisie and its servitors» and counterposes to it the strength «of organisation and discipline, the force of consciousness, the consciousness that individual acts of assassination are absurd, that the hour for the serious revolutionary struggle of the people has not yet struck, that the political situation is not ripe for it». Under such circumstances the Party will never «bid the people arm, but... will always make it [its] duty... to arm them with a sense of the burning necessity to arm and attack the enemy». But in a revolutionary situation such as 1905, the same party «following the initiative of the revolutionary workers [has] now issued the slogan, TO ARMS (4).

This passage shows clearly the position of revolutionary Marxists. It is opposed to that of the «windbags» who in all circumstances avoid (or have renounced once and for all) propagating the necessity of preparing for this armed insurrection, without which the conquest of power and further transition to socialism are only phantasmagoria. It is also opposed to the position of the voluntarists who take up arms or call the proletarians to arms at any moment without paying serious attention to the real relationship of forces. If the first are contemptible because they have in reality abandoned the revolutionary perspective, the second are an ineffective and disorganising factor because they presume to substitute themselves for the force of things, which is also the force of the class and the revolutionary party. Moreover, in the course of insurrectionary movements, the Marxist position is opposed as much to those who confuse insurrection with the struggle of certain individuals against other individuals, as to those who in effect advocate the necessity of insurrection, but refuse to organise it in the living heart of the general class struggle because, even if they won't admit it, «they are terrorised by the idea that it is up to them to realise it».

With this position irrevocably asserted, Lenin follows the infinitely varied and complex developments of the revolutionary struggle with an anxious and ardent clarity, recording its events and showing Marxist militants how to assume a «guiding and leading role» in all domains, including (but not only) that of military preparation. Let us cite a few fragments of his remarks and instructions. In August 1905 he wrote:
However much you may turn up your noses, gentlemen, at the question of night attacks and similar purely tactical military questions, however much you may pull wry faces about the «plan» of assigning secretaries of organisations, or their members in general, to stand on duty to provide for any military exigency - life goes its own way, revolution teaches, taking in hand and shaking up the most inveterate pedants. During civil war military questions must of necessity be studied down to the last detail, and the interest the workers show in these questions is a most legitimate and healthy phenomenon. Headquarters (or members of the organisations on duty) must of necessity be organised. The stationing of patrols and the billeting of squads are all purely military functions; they are all initial operations of a revolutionary army and constitute the organisation of an insurrection, the organisation of revolutionary rule, which matures and becomes stronger through these small preparations, through these minor clashes, testing its own strength, learning to fight, training itself for victory» (5).

It is also urgent to confront these extremely complex problems. Even in Lenin's most violent passage there is not a trace of «adventurism» or excessive haste:
Insurrection is an important word. A call to insurrection is an extremely serious call. The more complex the social system, the better the organisation of state power, and the more perfected the military machine, the more impermissible is it to launch such a slogan without due thought. And we have stated repeatedly that the revolutionary Social-Democrats have long been preparing to launch it, but have launched it as a direct call only when there could be no doubt whatever of the gravity, widespread and deep roots of the revolutionary movement, no doubt of matters having literally come to a head... The slogan of insurrection is a slogan for deciding the issue by material force, which in present-day European civilisation can only be military force. This slogan should not be put forward until the general prerequisites for revolution have matured, until the mosses have definitely shown that they have been roused and are ready to act, until the external circumstances have led to an open crisis. But once such a slogan has been issued, it would be an arrant disgrace to retreat from it, back to moral force again. to one of the conditions that prepare the ground for an uprising, to a «possible transition», etc..., etc. No, once the die is cast, all subterfuges must be done with; it must be explained directly and openly to the masses what the practical conditions for a successful revolution are at the present time» (6).

Once again it is necessary to be able to learn from the revolution, and to be able to teach it something. It is necessary to be able to decide emphatically after having appraised the situation coldly and chosen the moment. It is necessary to precede the movement of the masses, but only after having prepared them mentally and materially for the necessity of an irreversible decision. It must not be pretended that the masses are sufficient in themselves, nor that the party is sufficient in itself, much less its «military arm», which certain theorisation's transform into a substitute for the party. The revolutionary process is characterised by the volcanic eruption of social forces which force their way in a thousand directions, which create and recreate, abandon and then resume organisational forms in which their energies gradually seek direction and discipline. Each of them has repercussions on the others: they are all connected. They all stand or fall together.

In July 1906, the first revolutionary wave had receded, but all signs pointed to a vigorous resurgence. This seemed so imminent that the Bolsheviks had to openly boycott the elections to the Duma, proposed as a safety-valve for the anger of the workers and peasants. At that moment Lenin called attention to the fact that the «last word» of the mass movement in the course of the last quarter of 1905 had been the political general strike. He showed that this strike was certainly a necessary condition for the development of a situation of high social tension, but nonetheless would remain insufficient if it did not give rise to the insurrection. The latter was called for by the very fact that the political general strike came up against an adversary conscious that he was playing his last card: «independently of our will, in spite of any «directive», the acute revolutionary situation will transform the demonstration into a strike, the protest into struggle, the strike into an insurrection». And it is only the development of this ascending chain of events, whose links overlap one another, which will be able to pose the necessity of the conquest of power with absolute clarity for the broad masses.

At the end of 1905 we saw the Soviets of workers' delegates emerge from the strike as organs of mass struggle. But «by force of circumstances they very quickly became the organs of the general revolutionary struggle against the government»: they were «irresistibly transformed... into organs of an uprising». However, if the Soviets are «necessary for welding the masses together, for creating unity in the struggle, for handing on the party slogans (or slogans advanced by agreement between parties) of political leadership, for awakening the interest of the masses, for rousing and attracting them», they «are not sufficient for organising the immediate fighting forces, for organising an uprising in the narrowest sense of the word». Even more, the very survival of the Soviets implies the existence of a «military organisation alongside the organisation of Soviets, for defending the latter, for carrying out an uprising without which the Soviets or any elected representatives of the masses will remain powerless». The creation of these military organs obviously cannot be the work of the Party forces alone: the organisation of the masses «into light, mobile, small fighting units will, when things begin to move, render a very great service in regard to procuring arms» (7).

This still does not suffice. The Moscow insurrection in December 1905 proved Plekhanov wrong when he cried that «arms must not be taken up»; the events made it very clear that it was necessary on the contrary to take up arms «in a more resolute, more energetic manner and in a more aggressive spirit», and to apply Marx's instructions that «insurrection is an art, and that the principal rule of this art is the waging of a desperately bold and irrevocably determined offensive». The insurrection also showed that there can be no question of a serious struggle «unless the revolution assumes a mass character and affects the troops». It showed that this fight to «win over» the troops will not be won «at one stroke», but victory will come as a result of a long, tenacious, «bold, resourceful and aggressive» struggle, which will «also be a physical struggle» (8) at the moment of the insurrection.

Finally, and reciprocally, the armed insurrection, the culminating point of the general mass revolutionary struggle, is inconceivable without the activity of «mobile and exceedingly small units, units of ten, three or even two persons». This activity is the very meaning of the «tactics of guerrilla warfare», and it is rendered at once possible and necessary by developments in modern military technology, both as a prelude and as a constituent part of the insurrection as such:
The guerrilla warfare and mass terror that have been taking place throughout Russia practically without a break since December, will undoubtedly help the masses to learn the correct tactics of an uprising. Social-Democracy must recognise this mass terror and incorporate it into its tactics, organising and controlling it of course, subordinating it to the interests and conditions of the working-class movement and the general revolutionary struggle, while eliminating and ruthlessly lopping off the «hooligan» perversion of this guerrilla warfare which was so splendidly and ruthlessly dealt with by our Moscow comrades during the uprising and by the Letts during the days of the famous Lettish republics» (9).

It is necessary to bear in mind that the insurrection can only be reached at the apogee of a long series of demonstrations and strikes, both economic and political; that the army can be won over only at the apogee of an effort by the proletariat to arm and rearm itself; that the defence detachments for the Soviets can only really be organised at the apogee of the formation and generalisation of the Soviets and so on. Everything holds together, everything converges in the final act of insurrection. This is the immense perspective which Lenin adopts in the draft Tactical Platform for the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L P., and which has nothing in common with the myopic and narrow-minded vision of individualist and voluntarist terrorism. After a new Resolution on the Armed Insurrection which summarises the points we just evoked, he proposed the famous resolution on Fighting Guerrilla Operations, completely distorted by those who pretend to refer to it today. It reads:

(l) scarcely anywhere in Russia since the December uprising has there been a complete cessation of hostilities, which the revolutionary people are now conducting in the form of sporadic guerrilla attacks upon the enemy;
(2) these guerrilla operations, which are inevitable when two hostile armed forces face each other, and when repression by the temporarily triumphant military is rampant, serve to disorganise the enemy's forces and pave the way for future open and mass armed operations;
(3) such operations are also necessary to enable our fighting squads to acquire fighting experience and military training, for in many places during the December uprising they proved to be unprepared for their new tasks;
We are of the opinion, and propose that the Congress should agree:
(l) that the Party must regard the fighting guerrilla operations of the squads affiliated to or associated with it as being, in principle, permissible and advisable in the present period;
(2) that the character of these fighting guerrilla operations must be adjusted to the task of training leaders of the masses of workers at a time of insurrection, and of acquiring experience in conducting offensive and surprise military operations;
(3) that the paramount immediate object of these operations is to destroy the government, police and military machinery, and to wage a relentless struggle against the active Black-Hundred organisations which are using violence against the population and intimidating it;
(4) that fighting operations are also permissible for the purpose of seizing funds belonging to the enemy, i.e., the autocratic government, to meet the needs of insurrection, particular care being taken that the interests of the people are infringed as little as possible;
(5) that fighting guerrilla operations must be conducted under the control of the Party and, furthermore, in such a way as to prevent the forces of the proletariat from being frittered away and to ensure that the state of the working-class movement and the mood of the broad masses of the given locality are taken into account
» (10).

It is the totality of these considerations (which anarchist or Blanquist voluntarism and romanticism, with all their individualism, ignore systematically) which give «guerrilla action» and «mass terrorism» a role which cannot be separated from the insurrectional struggle for the seizure of power. These assertions bring us back to our point of departure, to the quotations from Lenin's Guerrilla Warfare, and our text Party and Class Action recalled in Part I of this article. After having recapitulated, on the level of the theoretical struggle as well as practical instructions, the history of Bolshevism from its birth until the threshold of the struggle for power in the revolution of 1905 - the fore bearer of the 1917 revolution -, we can give our critical evaluation not only of individualist terrorism in general but also of its contemporary versions.

The Marxist Method and the Question of Terrorism
[prev.] [content] [next]

If we have taken this indirect route, it has been in order to clarify the attitude of Marxism towards terrorism, an attitude which, as Trotsky remarked concerning the role of conspiracy in the revolutionary process, is contradictory in appearance only: the principled criticism of individual and romantic terrorism goes hand in hand with the advocation of violence and terror in the framework of the general working class strategy of the conquest of power. The avalanche of self-seeking falsifications by the most varied political groups, in their reaction to the acts of the Red Army Faction (Germany) or the Red Brigades (Italy), can only be combated on this basis.

Marxism rejects all explanations of the social phenomenon of terrorism which do not repose on a materialist analysis, and whose material basis Marxists must in turn explain. If it is admitted that individualist terrorism is purely and simply the product of a certain ideology, it would be necessary to seek the objective roots of this ideology: all ideologies are reflections of material realities. If it is admitted that individualist terrorism is the systematic result of «underground dealings» by the «other side», it would be necessary to explain why the «provocation» finds such favourable soil. If it is admitted that terrorism is (in general, and not only in a few rare pathological cases) a «political variant» of current criminality, it would still be necessary to explain both the eminently social phenomenon of criminality, as well as the no less social phenomenon of its political «transfiguration».

Marxism, on its part, connects the phenomenon of individual terrorism to a quite precise historical and social context - failing this it would not have the right to call itself a science. With all due deference to those who pretend to be Marxists even while they advance or propose as Marxist such «explanations» as above, we must state that it is precisely in this manner that Marxism has always proceeded in order to study terrorist actions as well as terrorist «theories».

In most cases Marxism has found the roots of terrorism in a violent internal crisis of the ruling class itself, a crisis which compels even the very sons and daughters of the established order to revolt, including those of the highest strata, but particularly those of lower strata, more directly hit or threatened by the developing or approaching social tremor: the intellectuals, students, and more generally, once capitalism has reached a certain stage or is in the process of developing, the urban petty-bourgeoisie. More rarely, and secondarily, it has found these roots in an elementary and spontaneous reaction (the first secret Societies, for example) of the nascent working class against the upheaval of all traditional living and working conditions caused by the primitive accumulation of capital and the development of big industry. In the particular case of the Red Brigades in Italy, the umbilical cord connecting them to the university movement, particularly 1968, that is to a petty-bourgeois minded social matrix, is obvious.

To the extent that it knows and understands the roots of the phenomenon, Marxism alone is able to explain it historically even though it proceeds to its theoretical demolition. It alone is able to recognise the symptomatic value of events that must take place not only independently of the will, decisions, and conscious objectives of the actors who occupy the foreground of the social stage, but against their will, decisions, and conscious objectives. And for Marxism, the positive or negative value to attribute to these events depends on the material data of the historical situation, never on abstract considerations and much less upon moral judgements! Obviously the idealists can not understand such a viewpoint.

Let us take a few historical examples of the Marxist critique. In 1847, Engels, with Marx, thrashed Heinzen's «tyrannicide», denouncing the vain pretension to overthrow the existing political and social relations by eliminating the big or small «personage», who in reality is not the cause, but the product of these relations. And in 1878-9 the same Engels greeted the signs of an impending revolution in Russia, which, to be sure, would «start from above, from within an impoverished and irreverent nobility» but which, once it had been set in motion, «would draw the peasants with it» and thus produce scenes ((which would make 1793 pale»; the same Engels welcomed «the powerful conspiracy in the army right up to the imperial court»; and the same Engels spoke of «political assassination» as the «only means remaining to intelligent, worthy, and proud men to defend themselves against the agents of an inhuman despotism» (11).

Moreover, while he conducted a merciless criticism from 1875 to 1894 of the populist ideology in Russia and of its Blanquist origins in order to lay the theoretical-programmatic foundations of the organ of the nascent proletariat, the communist party, again, it was Engels who in 1885 wrote in regard to the powder keg which the Czarist empire had become:
This is one of the exceptional cases where it is possible for a handful of people to make a revolution, i.e., with one little push to cause a whole system, which (to use a metaphor of Plekhanov's) is in more than labile equilibrium, to come crashing down, and thus by an action in itself insignificant to release explosive forces that afterwards become uncontrollable. Well now, if ever Blanquism - the fantastic idea of overturning an entire society by the action of a small conspiracy - had a certain raison d'être, that is certainly so now in Petersburg. Once the spark has been put to the powder, once the forces have been released and national energy has been transformed from potential into kinetic (another favourite image of Plekhanov's and a very good one) - the people who laid the spark to the mine will be swept away by the explosion, which will be a thousand times as strong as they themselves and which will seek its vent where it can, as the economic forces and resistances determine» (12).

Conversely, Marx condemned the voluntarist dreams of Schapper and Willich in the negative condition after 1850 («immediate seizure of power, or else go home to bed»), dreams in which he did not even see the smallest sign of a favourable situation. In the same way Engels condemned the dreams with which the Blanquist communards in their London refuge indulged themselves at the height of the reflux which followed the crushing of the Paris Commune.

But at the same time Marx and Engels explained these dreams from a materialist point of view, from the desperate situation of a working class reduced to impotence and deprived even of the «right of free speech, press and association» after the terrible defeats of 1848-49 in Germany and 1871 in France. And as a result of that generous but powerless will (for the Blanquists did not understand that the working class would only be able to escape from this situation «in 15, 20 or 50 years», and then only on the condition that they work to build tomorrow's proletarian party), they sought to escape the situation immediately by means of a voluntarist act.

In all these cases, an understanding of the terrorist phenomenon - as an act or as a theory - is the necessary condition for surpassing it by means of a classist and materialist vision of the revolutionary process and the role played in this process by the party. This understanding is all the more necessary as romantic terrorism finds not only an open field of action but almost a justification in the absence or the momentary eclipse of the only historical force capable of polarising the «explosive energies» which lie dormant within society (whether it be the case of pushing the bourgeois democratic revolution to its extreme consequences in a double revolution or of realising the proletarian and communist revolution), that is to say, the proletariat acting as a class.

Next it is necessary to emphasise that the severe judgement of Marxists does not apply to terrorism in general but to the specific form given to it by those who, following Marx's concise formula a propos of Schapper and Willich, hold an «idealist rather than materialistic [point of view]», for whom «revolutions are not the product of the realities of the situation but the result of a mere effort of will» (13). What separates us from them is not the question of whether or not violence and terror must be used, but the fact that we have a different and even opposite conception of the revolutionary process, of the class struggle and class war. In our conception the terrorist or exemplary act, the audacious attack, implemented even by «individuals or groups» if not by the mass in upheaval, led and preferably organised by the party, find their natural place and their positive function - just as does «conspiracy» which is a necessary aspect of the insurrection - because all these are inserted into an historical cycle which cannot be reduced to the proportions of a... putsch.

The fundamental principle of the Marxist conception is that the collision of classes is not resolved on the terrain of law but on that of force, a force whose highest manifestation is revolutionary, authoritarian and centralised violence which strikes the capitalist state and which after the conquest of power is transformed into, another form of systematic and planned violence, the proletarian class dictatorship. This is the meaning of the famous words in Capital, «violence, the midwife of the old society pregnant with a new» - and those pacifist academicians who would claim that Marx and Engels did not intend for these words to have their obvious implications and who maintain that the advocation of violence instead was an invention by Lenin (who is placed in the same sack as Stalin) simply propagate a ridiculous and contemptible lie.

To be sure, in London after 1850 Marx and Engels turned their backs on the voluntarist revolutionaries preoccupied with conceptualising «provisional governments of the future» whereas «a new unprecedented period of industrial prosperity had set in» and the foundation of social conditions was «so secure and... so bourgeois» (14). But in the fire of the revolutionary battles of the preceding years, inspired by the needs of the struggle, and not by abstract reflection or a «free choice», it was Marx, whom the bourgeoisie called the red-terror doctor, who wrote: «in order to abbreviate, simplify and concentrate the agony of the old society and the bloody sufferings of the birth of the new, there exists only one means - revolutionary terrorism»! For if the proletariat has none of the «cannibalism» of the bourgeois counterrevolution, it also disdains the hypocrisy with which the latter hides the ferocity of its reprisals. «We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you», said Marx to the Prussian police who prohibited the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, «when our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror» (15).

In 1850 Marx and Engels broke their organisational ties in the Communist League with Schapper and Willich, those men - nonetheless admired personally - who «replace revolutionary development with the revolutionary phrase»; they devoted themselves to preparing the «future party of opposition», the proletarian class party, for a future which they knew to be quite distant, and to defending «rigorously independent positions». But in March of the same year in the famous Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, they gave this party the imperative directive that «the whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon, and ammunition», knowing well that «yesterday's allies» are today's and even more so tomorrow's enemies. They proclaimed that «under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary». In short they stated that «the workers must be armed and organized» (16). The same year, in Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany, Engels fixed the imperative tactical guidelines of «insurrection as an art», opposed to the idea of an insurrection abandoned to its own spontaneity, deprived of centralisation and thus of effectiveness, guidelines which necessitate acting «with the greatest determination and on the offensive» (17).

Indeed in 1874 Marxists condemned mercilessly the voluntarism that reigned among the exiled Blanquists. But in the Class Struggles in France (1850) Marx pointed to Blanqui as the man who justly personified, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie - and this is the finest homage it could render him - the terrifying spectre «of the declaration of the revolution in permanence and of the class dictatorship of the proletariat» during the tumultuous days of 1848. Again in 1861, Marx exalts him as «the head and heart of the proletarian party in France» (18) because he did not hesitate to confront the enemy on its own ground, that of force, and thus also of violence.

In 1871, eyes fixed on the noble example of the Communards, Marx wrote to Kugelmann that «if they are defeated, only their 'good nature' will be to blame», above all because they did not want to «start a civil war» by marching immediately on Versailles (19). Today, the opportunists tremble at the idea that the Red Brigades might possibly - think of it - unleash civil war! After the defeat of the Commune, once again Marx called for in «the war of the enslaved against their enslavers, the only justifiable war in history», the use of the very measures of unveiled retaliation, intimidation, and terror which the vile ruling class made use of against the defeated without hesitating a single second to give its forces the order to «kill, burn, and destroy» (20). As for Engels, who in 1874 criticised the «revolutionary phrase» of the Blanquists, the same year he reminded the adversaries of authority that:

«A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon - authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?» (21).

Can we be more clear than this? Don't these few passages chosen from among innumerable others anticipate the epic of Red October and the civil war led to victory under the leadership of the «barbarians», «Asiatics», or even «Jacobins» that Lenin and Trotsky were supposed to be?

The Incompatibility Between Marxism and Individualist Terrorism
[prev.] [content] [next]

Because it knows the social roots of individualist terrorism Marxism can define and criticise without difficulty its inherent ideology which governs its actions.

On this level and taking into consideration not the particulars of its manifestations in given circumstances but its historical constants, the «difference» between terrorist romanticism and Marxism becomes incompatibility, and the divergences are transformed into antitheses. In their struggle or their instinctive reaction against the established order the members of the social strata where individualist terrorism germinates - the middle classes including the intelligentsia - trail fatally behind them the baggage of ideological motivations peculiar to their social origins as well as the corresponding forms of action. They revolt as individuals against the weight of the productive, social, and political structures which are suffocating increasingly the «human being» (and which suffocate it all the more so as society pretends to liberate, respect it and enable it to expand). Even when they utilise scraps of Marxist terminology, even when they appeal to the «proletariat» and talk of the «struggle for communism», they situate their revolt fatally under the flag of «bourgeois individualism in reverse», that «individualism which is the basis of the entire anarchist world outlook» (22) in which Lenin recognised the very essence of one of the ideological branches of populist terrorism The necessary complement of this individualism (here' it joins the other branch, terrorism elevated to a system, Blanquism) is idealism in the interpretation of history and voluntarism in the theorisation of means of action calculated to modify its course, such as Marx criticised in Schapper and Willich.

In the centre of this world view there are no classes, nor, at their root, any modes and relations of production, but instead unconnected individuals. Contrary to classes which are necessarily impelled to act by material needs, these individuals supposedly act as a result of «free choice» and a decision of their will. They counterpose to the «evil», the power and the privileges enjoyed by the individual oppressors and exploiters, their moral indignation, impassioned will, the force of the idea and the model of a «more just» society thought up by oppressed and exploited individuals.

Here we find the triple «misunderstanding» which Lenin revealed in the anarchist conception, and which already marked the pre-Marxist and anti-Marxist side of Blanquism, as Engels emphasised in his criticism of the.. Blanquist refugees in England: «Socialist only in sentiment, full of sympathy for the sufferings of the people, Blanqui possesses neither a socialist theory nor well-defined practical propositions for social intervention». This triple lack of understanding - «lack of understanding of the causes of exploitation of the development of society that leads to socialism... of the class struggle as a creative force realizing socialism» - reflects an idealist vision of the revolutionary process. This vision begins from the crude and immediate data of the oppressed-oppressor, exploited-exploiter, ruled-ruler relationship, which is common to all societies divided into classes and thus independent, of the particular society in which one lives and acts, and does not succeed in going beyond that, It is incapable of tracing the material causes that determine this relationship, not in the abstract and divorced from its historical content but in the present mode of production and social life. It is incapable of retracing the class forces which the modern mode of production engenders within it and which tend irresistibly to overthrow it. It is thus incapable of arriving at the ways and means which alone enable these forces to break out of their shell, and at the objectives which the very evolution of this mode of production makes at once possible and necessary. Consequently it is condemned to go around in a vicious circle of illusions and disillusionments from which it believes it will be able to escape by the «act of the will» at once destructive and creative.

For this reason Lenin makes a parallel between economism and terrorism: they are two manifestations, opposed only in appearance, of the same fundamental submission to spontaneity, to the immediate situation. Whereas the «purely economic» (trade-unionist) struggle reduces the historical conflict between the proletarian class and the bourgeois class, with all its necessary implications, to the simple opposition between wage labourers and bosses which limits its horizon, the «purely terrorist» struggle sees only the subject-sovereign (with or without the crown), opposition and reduces the historical conflict from which it expects a «more human» society to the slave-master opposition in general.

If terrorist actions (which today, especially in Europe, issue from the bursting of the 1968 dream of an «anti-power» or «alternativ-power», just as Russian nihilism issued from the disillusionment of those who wanted to «go to the people» in the 1 870's) are opposed by their brilliance to the dull activity of economism, they nonetheless have the same ideological horizon that remains confined within the framework of the order which both believe - sincerely, we admit - they are combating. And if the terrorist is more «respectable» than the economist to the extent that he is an insurgent, he is also more abstract: he reasons in terms that apply indiscriminately to a slave, feudal, or capitalist society, and he acts accordingly.

The illusions of the terrorist flourish on this terrain unavoidably, and not by coincidence. It is unavoidable that he thinks he «strikes the state in the heart» when he strikes the person of its instruments, or when he strikes the productive apparatus in the person of its agents. It is unavoidable that he confuses the network of interests, relations and institutions on which bourgeois society rests with a hierarchy or even a «clique», a pure and simple aggregate of individuals, which for that reason might be vulnerable to the bold undertakings of another group of individuals.

It is unavoidable that he confuses the revolution with a conspiracy of chosen ones whose aim is to overthrow a universal conspiracy of evil individuals. He does not see that in the tightly woven network of the economic structure and the social and political superstructure the personnel called the executive is only a set of interchangeable parts, replaceable and in fact constantly being replaced, in the service of an impersonal, historically determined machine.

It is unavoidable that the terrorist isolates the part - the «centre of power», such and such a government or party - from the whole, and imagines that he «disjoints» the whole by disjointing one part (even for that the classic bomb or more modern kidnapping certainly are not enough...). It is unavoidable that certain groups (particularly in Europe) see the evil as the multinational corporation, whose elimination would render a still capitalist world acceptable.

It is unavoidable that he measures the revolutionary or counterrevolutionary temperature of situations by the thermometer of his own enthusiasm; what does the complex play of relationships of forces matter if it is pure will that creates and leads them? The overestimation of historical situations on the part of the extra and anti-Marxist terrorist by no means results from an «analytical error». On the contrary it is congenital, it is part of his nature and his «raison d'être».

Not only does this submission to spontaneity translate into the impotent attempt to scratch the armour of the «system»; not only is individualist terrorism incapable of disorganising the adversary, even if it can create undeniable difficulties for it, but it is also just as incapable of organising the social forces for which it poses as a representative and defender. Worse, it contributes generally to their disorganisation.

Thus the Russian populists propagated the myth of the people and above all of the Russian peasant who was supposed to be an «instinctive revolutionary»; who still preserved intact the communal institutions which were supposedly forerunners of the future socialist society and who was supposedly ready to take off on his glorious path provided that the armoured shell of a purely political and police superstructure, the Czarist autocracy, were burst. For example, Tkachov, a leader of this current, was
convinced that it is only necessary to awaken simultaneously in several places the heaped up feeling of exasperation and discontent which... always is present in the bosom of our people. T hen the unification of the revolutionary powers will be achieved by itself... and the struggle must end with a victory for the side of the people. Practical necessity, the instinct of self-preservation achieves thus quite by itself a firm and inseparable bond among the revolting communities».

Engels answered him:
It is impossible to imagine an easier and more pleasant revolution. An uprising occurs in three or four places simultaneously, and the instinctive revolutionary, «practical necessity», the «instinct of self-preservation» do the rest, «quite by themselves». Why, if it is so ridiculously easy, did not the revolution occur long ago, the people liberate itself, and Russia change to a model socialist country?» (23).

With a few slight modifications of vocabulary we have the same myth expressed in the ideology of the present day terrorists, who even when they speak of a «proletariat», confuse it systematically with the people: all we have to do is launch our attack, the proletariat is there, ready, it will revolt on its own; all we have to do is rebel, socialism is there, ready, it will be born on its own.

To reason in this manner is to ignore all the history of the working class which, on the historical scale, is made up of a succession of advances and defeats. It means ignoring the weight of these vicissitudes, the brake constituted by the inertia inherited from the past, and the defection of whole groups of leaders to the enemy. It means ignoring the influence of bourgeois ideology, spread incessantly from all the high pulpits, and the undermining effects of «competition among wage labourers». It means ignoring the difficulty of accomplishing the leap - for a veritable leap has to be made - from the purely economic struggle to the political struggle, the struggle for power and the impossibility (despite whatever grandiose will) of constructing islets of alternative power within bourgeois society. It means forgetting that this party is not created during the struggle and is not born spontaneously and that it does not await its programme - the programme of proletarian emancipation - from the reflections of an «armed faction»; that it can play its role as leadership organ of the revolution only to the extent that it has preceded it, both in programme (which cannot be invented today because it was formulated a century and a half ago) and in practical organisation. And it means forgetting that the party must play this role in order that the revolution, if it breaks out, will not succumb once again.

What must be done, here and now, within a working class which finally in some areas of the world is just beginning to shake off the weight of opportunism which subjugates it to the bourgeoisie, a working class barely beginning to defend itself on the immediate economic level and which has not yet posed the question of its physical self-defence? What must be done within a working class that is trying laboriously to rediscover the most elementary methods and instruments of class struggle, and to rebuild those organs of trade union resistance that a long period of counterrevolution has destroyed or profoundly deformed? What must be done to combat and liquidate little by little not only the influence of open class collaboration but also of reformism and its thousand «left» variants? What relationship can there be between the immediate struggle that the working class must conduct today on a still difficult and unfavourable terrain, and the party's «armed organization» which can exist only in a phase of very high social tension (24), and only as a «military arm» of the political party? Is it possible to establish through these elementary struggles, through these first laborious steps, a real solidarity between workers, unemployed, and the utterly destitute, left to eke out a living in whatever marginal way, if we dazzle them with the unreal perspective of an imminent revolution? What should be our verdict of the Russian, Cuban, Yugoslavian, Vietnamese, or Albanian «socialisms», and of the «socialist» disguises of the revolutionary national-democratic movements, whose ideology is combined with the anarchist and Blanquist heritage present terrorist romanticism? Isn't the class party indispensable not only for the seizure of power, but also in order to lead and exercise the proletarian dictatorship? Isn't it necessary to reconstruct this party in the footsteps of an uninterrupted tradition, which the party in turn must restore to the working class whole and unaltered, relieved of all the deformations and aberrations accumulated from the right as well as from the «left»? And finally, what is communism, which so many people reduce to a poor copy of capitalism?.

All these problems and many more again remain open questions in what passes for the «revolutionary vanguard». Now if we wish to be able to march towards revolution, it is necessary to give these questions a clear and firm answer. Our present day terrorists know no more about revolution than their forebears. All they can say is that the state must be struck at its heart (or what they believe to be its heart), ignoring pure and simple the enormous, sometimes humble and not always spectacular, but essential tasks of revolutionary preparation.

To ignore these problems and these tasks, or to rely on the shock of wanton terror to resolve them, not only means evading the difficult and indispensable work of preparing the subjective conditions of the revolution, but in fact means idealising the state of programmatic and tactical disorganisation and disorientation in which the working class finds itself today. Not only, as Plekhanov said in 1884 (in his revolutionary period), does this amount to diverting «our attention from the most important point - the organisation of the working class for its struggle against its present and future enemies» (25), but it signifies denying the very necessity of this organisation. That is, it adds to the disorganisation accomplished by reformist opportunism its own disorganisation and its own amorphism which the noise of the revolutionary phrase and bursts of submachine gun fire cannot conceal.

As Trotsky very correctly wrote:
In every class society there are enough contradictions so that a conspiracy can take root in its cracks... But a pure conspiracy even when victorious can only replace one clique of the same ruling class by another - or still less, merely alter the governmental personages. Only mass insurrection has ever brought the victory of one social regime over another... Now the masses advance and retreat several times before they make up their minds to the final assault» (26).

If we bear in mind that Trotsky said this of a period that was already pre-Revolutionary, we can see the hard and long work of preparation we have in front of us today. It is this difficult task that must be undertaken, and it is to this that we must devote the best of our energies. The revolutionary outcome will be the fruit of a long and arduous conquest, and not the result of a simple shove administered to the edifice of capitalism, still solid in spite of its undermined foundations.

Individualist terrorism refuses to enter on this road. It is in this refusal that its «folly» resides - and not in the advocacy of the historical necessity of violence, as our brave democrats rave, themselves always so ready to utilise it without restraint to defend bourgeois institutions. It is this refusal that condemns terrorism.

What Do The Masses Need?
[prev.] [content] [next]

It is by no means a contradiction that the individualist idealism which characterises the doctrine and practice of romantic terrorism, both yesterday and today, attempts at a certain point in its trajectory to escape from the vicious circle of its real isolation and believes that it can «project itself into the mass movement», as stated for example in a resolution of the Red Brigades in February 1978. On the contrary, this attempt confirms its nature, for either it fantasises that it activates mass movements in order then to insert itself, or it pretends to be the «tip of the iceberg» of a movement already under way. In either case it only raises its congenital voluntarism to a higher level, the better to combine it with spontaneism. The terrorist dreams of organising «workers' power in the factories, residential areas, and prisons» beginning right now, and of carrying out the role of a mailed fist of a military organisation placed at the disposal of this new power.

History repeats itself. In the summer of 1902, Lenin had to combat the Socialist-Revolutionaries:
In their defence of terrorism, which the experience of the Russian revolutionary movement has so clearly proved to be ineffective, the Socialist-Revolutionaries are talking themselves blue in the face in asseverating that they recognise terrorism only in conjunction with work among the masses, and that therefore the arguments used by the Russian Social-Democrats to refute the efficacy of this method of struggle (and which have indeed been refuted for a long time to come) do not apply to them» (27).

While exalting the episodes of armed «dueling» with the authorities, the Socialist-Revolutionaries proclaimed:
We advocate terrorism not in place of work among the masses, but precisely for and simultaneous with that work».
Lenin's answer is all the more instructive since he bases himself on a situation radically different from today's. At that time the masses were practically on the verge of revolting. The serious problem posed for the revolution was to fill the void separating a mass movement on the rise and the fragility of an organisation unable - not, at this point, to lead - but to respond to its most elementary needs for orientation, organisation and political preparation in the broad sense. Now the «misunderstanding of the role of organisation and education» has always been for Lenin and Marxism one of the characteristic traits of anarchism. The economists, imprisoned within an immediatist vision of the movement, reduce the revolutionary tasks to a day to day intervention in economic struggles. The terrorists, «economists turned inside out», afflicted with an analogous disorder, limit these tasks to spectacular acts of brilliance. Both ignore the urgent needs, at once both modest and spectacular, of this movement to which they pretend to devote themselves. Both destroy the subjective conditions for the strengthening of the organ without which the movement is condemned to go around in circles, that is the class party.

Today we are experiencing the long-term effects of the social democratic and Stalinist counterrevolution, which make the rebirth of an authentic «mass movement» so difficult, and which above all bear down with a terrible weight on the reconstruction of the programmatic, tactical, and organisational foundations of the revolutionary class party. Consequently Lenin's words, written in a period of enormous social tension, when the fabric of the future Party of October was being woven, have an even greater relevance, today.

«[The Socialist-Revolutionaries] mistake, as we have already pointed out on numerous occasions, consists in the failure to understand the basic defect of our movement... At a time when the revolutionaries are short of the forces and means to lead the masses, who are already rising, an appeal to resort to such terrorist acts as the organisation of attempts on the lives of ministers by individuals and groups that are not known to one another means not only thereby breaking off work among the masses, but also introducing downright disorganisation into that work».

And in his customary manner of considering the most arduous theoretical questions from the point of view of party work, Lenin explained:
Anyone who really carries on his revolutionary work in conjunction with the class struggle of the proletariat very well knows, sees and feels what vast numbers of immediate and direct demands of the proletariat (and of the sections of the people capable of supporting the latter) remain unsatisfied. He knows that in very many places, throughout vast areas, the working people are literally straining to go into action, and that their ardour runs to waste because of the scarcity of literature and leadership, the lack of forces and means in the revolutionary organisations. And we find ourselves - we see that we find ourselves - in the same old vicious circle that has so long hemmed in the Russian revolution like an omen of evil. On the one hand, the revolutionary ardour of the insufficiently enlightened and unorganised crowd runs to waste. On the other hand, shots fired by the «elusive individuals» who are losing faith in the possibility of marching in formation and working hand in hand with the masses also end in smoke» (28).

This is why (as we pointed out above) Lenin opposed the «facile repetition of what has already been condemned by the very past forms of the movement» to «what the future possesses», the «future forms of the movement». This is why, declaring «a determined and relentless war on the Socialist-Revolutionaries», he wrote, among other things:
No verbal assurances and vows can disprove the unquestionable fact that present-day terrorism, as practised and advocated by the Socialist Revolutionaries, is not connected in any way with work among the masses, for the masses, or together with the masses; that the organisation of terroristic acts by the Party distracts our very scanty organisational forces from their difficult and by no means completed task of organising a revolutionary workers' party; that in practice the terrorism of the SocialistRevolutionaries is nothing else than single combat, a method that has been wholly condemned by the experience of history. Even foreign socialists are beginning to become embarrassed by the noisy advocacy of terrorism advanced today by our Socialist-Revolutionaries. Among the masses of the Russian workers this advocacy simply sows harmful illusions, such as the idea that terrorism «compels people to think politically, even against their will» (Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, No. 7, p. 4), or that «more effectively than months of verbal propaganda it is capable of changing the views... of thousands of people with regard to the revolutionaries and the meaning [!!] of their activity», or that it is capable of «infusing new strength into the waverers, those discouraged and shocked by the sad outcome of many demonstrations» (ibid.), and so on. These harmful illusions can only bring about «early disappointment and weaken the work of preparing the masses for the onslaught upon the autocracy» (29)
... or today upon the bourgeois democratic state.

The «Fighting Party»
[prev.] [content] [next]

The present day terrorists perhaps believe that they have rallied to Lenin's position because they utilise one of his formulae, that of the «fighting party». Does this really reflect a recognition on their part of the fundamental necessity of the party, and should we see here the indication of a qualitative change in the theory and programme of individualist terrorism? Obviously this is not the case at all, and these people utilise Lenin's expression completely out of context.

In the Marxist conception (not «revised and corrected» by Lenin as some would say, but simply developed in all its explicit and implicit ramifications), the class party, the political party, from its birth contains inscribed in its programme, whose essence is immutable, the fact that its sole function as the political «organisation of the proletariat into a class» is to prepare the qualitative leap towards «its organisation into a ruling class», in other words the preparation of the revolutionary seizure of power. This implies the armed insurrection and the dictatorship exercised over the defeated classes by the victorious power led by the party, as much to break the internal and external resistance of the bourgeoisie as to carry on, when objective conditions permit, the by definition international struggle against capitalism on the level of a revolutionary war. The party moreover, knows that this goal cannot be attained and this preparation cannot be realised except on the condition that in the entire period preceding the revolutionary situation it not only has carried out the complex whole of activities of propaganda, proselytism, agitation, organisation, intervention in worker's struggles, etc., which characterise the party, but also that it continues to assume them all (in different proportions) during the revolutionary situation. Only in this way, in fact, will it be able to respond to the proletariat's needs for organisation and political preparation. by dint of which it has appeared and which define it as a class party.

«At the time of the civil war», writes Lenin in the article on guerrilla warfare quoted above, «the ideal of the party of the proletariat is the fighting party». Precisely, at the time of the civil war! Not at just any time, not in just any situation which the reveries or the will of certain people decree to be a situation of civil war. The party only becomes a «fighting party» when the «mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly long intervals occur between the «big engagements» of the insurrection»; when, in order to prevent the movement from being frayed in the disintegration and the demoralisation implicit in its generous spontaneity, so lacking in orientation, the party must demonstrate that it is capable of leading it. If the party then becomes the «fighting party» it is because it has been preparing itself for a long time for the need to acquire its «military arm», a task which is not adapted to any situation or practical at any time. But in no case can the party be confused with its military arm, nor be reduced to that. If it is a «fighting party» this is because it has long since learned how to fight and because «in time of civil war» it is ready to use the appropriate means, i.e. military ones, and to lead the proletariat on this level of struggle. But it never considers these means as «the only or even as the chief method of struggle»; on the contrary, «this method must be subordinated to other methods... it must be commensurate with the chief methods of warfare, and must be ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism» (30).

Thus it utilises these means by framing them in a strategical and tactical plan which never permits the political party to be transformed into a more or less tight network of «brigades», nor into any sort of «army». Quite the opposite, this plan necessitates that, in the period of civil war, the political party construct its own military apparatus, rigorously subordinated to the objectives, program, organisational network, and tactical decisions of the party. It requires that the party prepare in advance the subjective conditions for the formation of this apparatus, and not permit itself to be stopped, when the moment arrives, by the inevitable manifestations of «disorganisation» brought about by the transition to any wartime action and «any new form of struggle, accompanied as it is by new dangers and new sacrifices». These unavoidable troubles nevertheless will be less serious to the extent that party militants are better prepared to meet them and to the extent that the party as a whole has conquered the sympathy and support of increasingly broad layers of the class in the course of work executed with tenacity and continuity on a terrain and with methods which are not and cannot yet be military.

This party, whose «military arm» is only an instrument - and an auxiliary, technical, and rigorously subordinate instrument - does not amuse itself by «choosing clandestinity» (as is said in the typically voluntarist phraseology of romanticist terrorism) even if it foresees that it will be compelled at a certain moment of its trajectory to live an underground existence. Moreover it does not fall into the idealist error that presents clandestinity as mechanically synonymous with armed struggle or military action, even if it foresees that in the crucial phase of the insurrection, clandestine action will become one - but only one - of its principal modes of action. On the contrary, then it will not cease to develop by illegal means all the activities that characterised its former «legal» life, just as in normal times it must apply itself to weaving a more or less rigid clandestine network, not as an alternate to the open and avowed party network, but as its necessary complement, its indispensable system of defence.

In short, the party does not believe that its permanent task - which consists in organising and orienting the masses in order to be able to lead them, and which it will have to pursue even after the end of the civil war and after the conquest of power - can be reduced to what is only one of its phases, a phase which is particularly delicate to be sure, but consequently also one which needs most to be politically controlled, and one which is the most limited in time.

What can an organisation which acts according to these criteria have in common with the «fighting party» advocated by the Blanquist type terrorists? The latter raise to the level of the party what for Marxism is only one of the instruments of the party, an instrument from which it requires above all a political as well as organisational discipline and obedience, because it is only on this condition that the party will be able to entrust it, at zero hour, with a function of temporary command in a specific sector (31).

For Marxism, the party organ is not a mechanical product of the spontaneous class movement (as all the spontaneist pretend), much less can it be born from a movement reduced to the expression of military commandos on a very small scale, as the present day brigadists would have it, It does not make up its program from one day to the next collecting up all the so-called new theories. It does not make its organisation dependent on the real or imaginary expectations of the moment. It does not subordinate its tactical plan to the immediate attractions of the moment. Its ability to lead the real movement - which it does not create, whose moment of birth it cannot decide, just as it cannot determine the increasingly varied forms in which its manifold requirements will manifest themselves - depends upon its ability to precede it. It depends on its capacity to foresee the final outcome as well as the road that leads to it, the phases it will have to traverse on this long route, the means that will have to be employed each in their turn, none of which excludes the others, even when one may occupy the foreground.

The party has this capacity because it possesses a theory and programme which show the way forward on the revolutionary path to the extent that they embody interests and objectives which do not correspond to one isolated phase of the movement but which go beyond objectives which might seem essential to members of the class taken individually, and even to the class as a whole, at particular moments in its history. In short, the party must be the point of departure in order to be able to be the decisive lever in the process of the emancipation of the working class. The military apparatus, on the other hand, a vital organ in the insurrection, but neither sufficient in itself nor autonomous, can only be one of the higher stages on the ascending scale of the revolution, never its point of departure.

This is why Lenin, in What Is to Be Done? shows that the apparently opposed phenomena of economism and terrorism are the two faces of the same coin, which bears the name: submission to spontaneity. Consequently, he writes:
It would be a grievous error indeed to build the Party organisation in anticipation only of outbreaks and street fighting, or only upon the forward march of the drab everyday struggle. We must always conduct our everyday work and always be prepared for every situation, because very frequently it is almost impossible to foresee when a period of outbreak will give way to a period of calm. In the instances, however, when it is possible to do so, we could not turn this foresight to account for the purpose of reconstructing our organisation; for in an autocratic country these changes take place with astonishing rapidity, being sometimes connected with a single night raid by the tsarist janizaries. And the revolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act (as the Nadezhdins apparently imagine), but as a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less complete calm. For that reason, the principal content of the activity of our Party organisation, the focus of this activity, should be work that is both possible and essential in the period of a most powerful outbreak as well as in the period of complete calm, namely, work of political agitation, connected throughout Russia, illuminating all aspects of life, and conducted among the broadest possible strata of the masses» (32).

Thus Lenin points not to the gun or the bomb as the principal instrument of the party, but to the instrument of education and political organisation constituted by the party newspaper, the vehicle of the principles, program, and the tactical plan - those imperatives to which each particular means of struggle is and must remain subordinated. Around this instrument will be formed the organisational network which, precisely,
will be ready for everything, from upholding the honour, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary depression to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nation-wide armed uprising» (33).

Thus the «duty to create organisations [in periods of high social tension] best adapted to lead the masses in these big engagements and, as far as possible, in these small encounters» and, when «the class struggle has become accentuated to the point of civil war..., not only to participate but also to play the leading role in this civil war» - this duty is not entrusted to just any organisation born as an immediate expression of the struggle or the will to struggle, armed or not. It is entrusted by Lenin to the revolutionary class party (34), the physical not metaphysical embodiment of the theory, program, and traditions of struggle of a century of the worker' movement.

It is only in this perspective that we have the right and the duty to struggle for the «fighting party». Those who do not share this view only fight for fantasies born of their own voluntarism, and in this way they disorganise and disorientate the very «mass movement» they pretend to glorify.

In the Light of October
[prev.] [content] [next]

The Bolsheviks were rigorously faithful to this global vision, one neither narrow nor short term, of the role of the party in the proletarian revolution and in the preparation for it. This is what enabled them not only to give the signal for the insurrection in October 1917, which would have been insufficient in itself, but also to lead it and carry it through to victory.

From February to October, the Party underwent all the phases of its development, fulfilled all its tasks, pushed its propaganda, its agitation, its efforts to organise the proletariat in all directions. Far from being satisfied with its minority position, it tried to overcome this by working in the ranks of the class, both «underground» and «above ground», in street demonstrations as well as in economic battles, in the audacious attacks of moments of offensive as well as in the prudent operations in times of retreat or defence. It worked on, concentrating its attention not on its own wishes or impatience but on the real aspirations and profound needs of the masses, always applying itself to urging the movement ahead, even if it entailed rejecting from its own ranks any «tailists» who where prone to remaining in tow of the movement. This is the activity that characterises the «fighting party», and not its parody served up with urban guerrilla sauce. It is this party activity which produced that «masterpiece of the military art», the October insurrection. It is thanks to this that October was simultaneously the burial of individualist terrorism and the most sublime exaltation of class violence and terror.

Throughout this study we have endeavoured to re-establish the dialectical series which alone enables us to reaffirm the revolutionary substance of Marxism in the face of the bleatings of democracy and its priests in the workers movement, though without attenuating the century old critique of romantic terrorism. We know no better way of concluding than by quoting the pages where Trotsky, in full agreement with Lenin in his letters to the Central Committee on and before the eve of October, restores conspiracy to its proper place, gives it to the proletariat as one of its indispensable weapons.

After having underlined the enormous difference that exists between «the deliberate undertaking of a minority» and «insurrection, which rises above a revolution like a peak in the mountain chain of its events» and which no more than the revolution as a whole, can «be evoked at will», Trotsky writes:

«This does not mean, however, that popular insurrection and conspiracy are in all circumstances mutually exclusive. An element of conspiracy almost always enters to some degree into any insurrection. Being historically conditioned by a certain stage in the growth of a revolution, a mass insurrection is never purely spontaneous. Even when it flashes out unexpectedly to a majority of its own participants, it has been fertilised by those ideas in which the insurrectionaries see a way out of the difficulties of existence, But a mass insurrection can be foreseen and prepared. It can be organised in advance. In this case the conspiracy is subordinate to the insurrection, serves it, smoothes its path, hastens its victory. The higher the political level of a revolution movement and the more serious its leadership, the greater will be the place occupied by conspiracy in a popular insurrection...
To overthrow the old power is one thing; to take the power in one's own hands is another. The bourgeoisie may win the power in a revolution not because it is revolutionary, but because it is bourgeois. It has in its possession property, education, the press, a network of strategic positions, a hierarchy of institutions. Quite otherwise with the proletariat. Deprived in the nature of things of all social advantages, an insurrectionary proletariat can count only on its numbers, its solidarity, its cadres, its official staff.
Just as a blacksmith cannot seize the red hot iron in his naked hand, so the proletariat cannot directly seize the power; it has to have an organisation accommodated to this task. The co-ordination of the mass insurrection with the conspiracy, the subordination of the conspiracy to the insurrection, the organisation of the insurrection through the conspiracy, constitutes that complex and responsible department of revolutionary politics which Marx and Engels called the art of insurrection. It presupposes a correct general leadership of the masses, a flexible orientation in changing conditions, a thought-out plan of attack, cautioussness in, technical preparation, and a daring blow...
The social democrats... do not reject revolution at large as a social catastrophe, any more than they reject earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, eclipses and epidemics of the plague. What they do reject - calling it «Blanquism», or still worse, Bolshevism - is the conscious preparation of an overturn, the plan, the conspiracy...
From his observations and reflections upon the failure of the many insurrections he witnessed or took part in, Auguste Blanqui derived a number of tactical rules which if violated will make the victory of any insurrection extremely difficult, if not impossible. Blanqui demanded these things: a timely creation of correct revolutionary detachments, their centralised command and adequate equipment, a well calculated placement of barricades, their definite construction, and a systematic, not a mere episodic, defence of them, All these rules, deriving from the military problems of the insurrection, must of course change with social conditions and military technique, but in themselves they are not by any means Blanquism in the sense that this word approaches the German putschism, or revolutionary adventurism.
Insurrection is an art, and like all arts it has its laws, The rules of Blanqui were the demands of a military revolutionary realism, Blanqui's mistake lay not in his direct but his inverse theorem, From the fact that tactical weakness condemns an insurrection to defeat, Blanqui inferred that an observance of the rules of insurrectionary tactics would itself guarantee the victory. Only from this point on is it legitimate to contrast Blanquism with Marxism. Conspiracy does not take the place of insurrection. An active minority of the proletariat, no matter how well organised, cannot seize the power regardless of the general conditions of the country. In this point history has condemned Blanquism. But only in this. His affirmative theorem retains all its force. In order to conquer the power, the proletariat needs more than a spontaneous insurrection, It needs a suitable organisation, it needs a plan; it needs a conspiracy
» (35).

It is for all these reasons, which form an indivisible whole, that a revolutionary class party is needed, solidly rooted in the Soviets, in the trade unions, in the factory councils, etc., armed with its military apparatus, but not subordinated to any of these organs. And Trotsky continues in these terms, which correspond to the fundamental positions of our current:
Thanks to a favourable combination of historic conditions both domestic and international, the Russian proletariat was headed by a party of extraordinary political clarity and unexampled revolutionary temper. Only this permitted that small and young class to carry out a historic task of unprecedented proportions. It is indeed the general testimony of history - the Paris Commune, the German and Austrian revolutions of 1918, the soviet revolution in Hungary and Bavaria, the Italian revolution of 1919, the German crisis of 1923, the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, the Spanish revolution of 1931 - that up to now the weakest link in the chain of necessary conditions has been the party. The hardest thing of all is for the working-class to create a revolutionary organisation capable of rising to the height of its historic task. In the older and more civilised countries powerful forces work toward the weakening and demoralisation of the revolutionary vanguard. An important constituent part of this work is the struggle of the social democrats against Blanquism, by which name they designate the revolutionary essence of Marxism».

An enormous task awaits communists: to struggle against the forces of social-democratic, and today above all, Stalinist, origin, while preventing the erroneous reaction, the ideology which denies the centralising function of the party, from rising to its feet again.

It is for this reason that, while laying bare the inconsistency of the «negative side» of terrorist Blanquism and all its variants, we call upon young proletarians to struggle with the utmost energy against the false illusions of reformist gradualism, against the opportunist plague, without falling into the sterile and impotent dreams of individualist terrorism. We call upon them to struggle in order that the revolutionary contents of Marxism can appear in broad daylight; in order that the link in the chain of necessary conditions for revolution, the Marxist political party, which in the advanced countries has proved to be the weakest link up to now, may strengthen itself and manifest itself with all its vigour; in order that the proletarian revolution may be reborn from the convergence and interaction of the party with the spontaneous insurrection of forces born from the volcano of economic and social life, and in order that, instead of being nipped in the bud once again, it may seize victory.

[prev.] [content] [end]

  1. See Communist Program no. 5. On this subject see also «Terrorism and Communism: on the Events in Germany» in Communist Program no. 4. [back]
  2. Draft Resolution on the Attitude of the RSDLP Towards the Armed Uprising, Collected Works. Vol. 8, p. 68. Whereas today the Social Democratic parties are merely degenerated reformists, we must remind that at Lenin's time the term Social-Democracy was used to denote the Marxist Party. [back]
  3. Preface to Two Tactics of the Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905), Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 18. [back]
  4. «Should We Organise the Revolution», Feb. 21, 1905, Collected Works, Vol. 8, p. 172 [back]
  5. «The Black Hundreds and the Organisation of an Uprising». Aug. 29, 1905, Collected Works, Vol.9, p.203. In order to avoid giving the term «revolutionary» army a banal «technical» meaning, Lenin specifies in another passage:
    a military force, the military force of the revolutionary people (and not the people in general), consisting of
    1) the armed proletariat and peasantry,
    2) organised advance detachments of representatives of these classes, and
    3) sections of the army that are prepared to come over to the side of the people.
    It is all this taken together that constitutes a revolutionary army
    » («The Latest in Iskra Tactics», Oct. 17, 1905, Collected Works, Vol. 9, pp. 366-7). [back]
  6. «The Latest in Iskra Tactics», op. cit.. pp. 367-9 (our emphasis). [back]
  7. «The Dissolution of the Duma and the Tasks of the Proletariat». July. 1906, Collected Works, vol. II, pp. 124-6. [back]
  8. «Lessons of the Moscow Uprising». Aug. 29, 1906, Collected Works, vol. Il, p. 174-6. [back]
  9. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. Il, p. 176-7. We have emphasised the sentences where Lenin gives the keystone of the Marxist view of the use of violence and terror in the revolutionary struggle. [back]
  10. The text, published on March 29, 1906, is to be found in the Collected Works, Vol. 10, pp. 153-4 (our emphasis). [back]
  11. In La Plèbe of Jan, 22, 1878 and March 21, 1879. This passage is translated from the Italian language collection of Marx's and Engel's writings entitled India, Cina, Russia (Milan, 1965), pp. 232-3. [back]
  12. Engels to Vera Zasulich, April 23. 1885, in Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence. (Moscow, third edition), 1975, p. 362. [back]
  13. Marx, «Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Colognes (1853); In Marx-Engels, The Cologne Communist Trial, (London, 1971), p. 62. [back]
  14. Engels, «A few words on the History of the Communist Leagues»(1885), in Marx, Selected Works, vol. 2, (London, 1942), pp. 23-4. [back]
  15. Marx, «Victory of the Counterrevolution in Vienna», Neue Rheinische Zeitung. no. 136, Nov. 1848, and «Suppression of the Neue Rheinische Zeitungs, no. 301, May 19, 1849, in Marx-Engels, Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. 1848-49, (Moscow, 1972), pp. 149 and 254. [back]
  16. Marx-Engels, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League (March I850), in Karl Marx, Political Writings. Vol. 1: The Revolution of 1848. p. 326. [back]
  17. On the eve of the October Revolution Lenin would quote this page from Engels extensively. See Germany: Revolution and Counterrevolution, in Engels, The German Revolutions (Chicago, 1967), p. 227. [back]
  18. Marx to L. Watteau, November 10, 1861, in Marx-Engels, Correspondence. Moscow, 1971, p. 120. [back]
  19. Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, April 12, 1871, in Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, op. cit., p. 247. [back]
  20. Marx, The Civil War in France, in Marx, Political Writings. Vol. 3, The First International and After, 1974, pp. 228-29. [back]
  21. Engels, «On Authority» (1873), in Marx-Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I (Moscow, 1962), p.369). [back]
  22. Lenin, «Anarchism and Socialism», 1901, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 327. [back]
  23. Engels, «On Social Conditions in Russia» (1875) in The Russian Menace to Europe, P.W. Blackstock ed., (1953), p. 214. [back]
  24. This of course does not exclude the task of self defence which can be posed in any period. [back]
  25. Plekhanov, «Our Differences» (1884) in Selected Philosophical Works, Vol 1, (Moscow), p. 181. [back]
  26. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 1 (Ann Arbor, 1961), p. 167. Let us make it clear that we quote Trotsky here as a member of the Bolshevik party, as the founder of the Red Army and as an opponent to Stalin's counterrevolutionary theory, of «Socialism in one country». This in no way means that we can defend all of Trotsky's positions or that our current has anything to do with Trotskyism today. [back]
  27. Lenin, «Revolutionary Adventurism», Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 189. [back]
  28. Lenin, «Revolutionary Adventurism», Collected Works, Vol. 6, pp. 192-6. [back]
  29. Lenin, «Why the Social-Democrats Must Declare a Determined and Relentless War on the Socialist-Revolutionaries», Collected Works. Vol. 6, p. 175. [back]
  30. Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, Collected Works. Vol. 11, p. 221. [back]
  31. Hence the «revolutionary military committee» of October was a magnificent technicopolitical instrument of the Bolshevik party, which received its orders from the party and was responsible to it. Nobody, least of all Trotsky, would ever have thought of raising it to the level of a substitute for the party. [back]
  32. Lenin, What is To Be Done, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 514. [back]
  33. Lenin, What is To Be Done, Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 5 14-S. [back]
  34. Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, Collected Works. Vol. 11, p. 221. [back]
  35. This quote and the following (our emphasis) are taken from the chapter of the History of the Russian Revolution entitled «The Art of Insurrection», Vol. 3, pp. 167. It is clear that with the seizure of power a new chapter is opened, that of the red terror in the course of the civil war and the dictatorship. We remind the reader that Trotsky dealt with this question exhaustively and with a formidable dialectical strength in his Terrorism and Communism. [back]

< part 1

Source: «Communist Programm», Nr.6, September 1980

[top] [content] [last] [home] [mail] [search] [webmaster] [get pdf]

you arrived from:

pagecolour: [to the top]