IV. Historical run (condensed in the time) of bolshevism
The revolutionary formation
Lenin outlines, in his third chapter, a brief history of the developments that enabled the bolshevik party to direct its action on the path to revolution. A similarly rapid look at this resume enables us to belie the same old legend, i.e., that events and masses’ fever had revealed an unexpected way to the party, and given for the first time a previously ignored key of revolutionary history, which could be handled, from the moment of victory on, in all other countries. Unfortunately militant opportunism has already deserted this position, to adopt a far more cowardly one, i.e., that Lenin, bolshevism and the October tradition must be considered as small idols, while their Word, which would have allegedly revealed itself in Russia for the first time, should no longer be announced in other countries.
The work of Lenin seems specially written to answer such a forgery. The real reason that will make the fundamental lines of the development that led to the victorious October 1917 a character of the proletarian struggle in all countries, is that they did not arise as an unexpected miracle in Russia; on the contrary, they strictly confirmed the forecasts of a universal doctrine of proletarian revolution, on which, half a century after its historical formation, Russian revolutionaries had successfully drawn. There were peculiar conditions of Russia, as shown by the following events, unfortunately adverse; but it is to point out the common features of the Russian revolution and of all revolutions, that Lenin writes, and fiercely fought for all his life.
Lenin starts with 1903, as in that year the bolshevik party split from menshevik socialdemocracy, which was tailing after the European revisionism of those marxists who wanted to change the revolutionary foundations of both doctrine and action of the international proletarian party; as it was, since that year, quite distinct from all other parties within the opposition to tsarism – although they were revolutionary parties, in the antifeudal sense –, it influenced the real situation and was influenced by it, in a quite original way, drawing quite different conclusions on the efficiency of the position of all other parties. To bolshevism, October meant confirmation and victory, to all others, denial and defeat.
Then, when it was 14 years to the revolution, Lenin’s party had already learnt the main lines leading to the historical victory, and it was not the latter to teach them and to build up a theory; as it was only a verification, a grandiose and glorious one, but still a verification of a pre-existing doctrine, a disastrous and mortal one for all adversaries’ doctrines.
Everybody has the presentiment that the revolution against the despotic power of tsars and of feudal nobility is near. The situation is revolutionary for all classes of Russian society and for their «spokesmen»: the political parties and their groups working within the émigrés abroad.
The ideological struggle among the various contending classes occurs therefore before the armed struggle which is to take place in the years 1905–1907, and in 1917–192O, as stated by Lenin. The theoretical arms are therefore formed before the encounter of social forces; this is the general meaning of the historical materialism and of class struggle, valid for all class revolutions and not only for the anticapitalist one.
Whoever believes that from the course of class wars it is possible to draw their theoretical and ideological expression, is actually reversing marxism. Each class has a revolutionary ideology long before fighting for the seizure of power; even the proletarian class starts its struggle, first as a political action and agitation, and then as an insurrectional battle; its advantage, if compared to the previous revolutionary classes, is to have, in its political party, the right doctrine of the historical course, as well as the right explanation of the struggles of other classes, which interpreted them in a wrong way. The bourgeoisie, before its revolution, already had a critical and cultural blossoming on the end of feudal and clerical monarchies; but, within such a perspective, the view according to which the coming of democratic freedom would put an end to both class struggles and social inequalities was a false one; the French revolution itself, which was a «simple» and not a «double» revolution, like the Russian, gave a chance to the party of the new proletarian class, the fourth estate (when immense crowds were being mobilised), to set up the new doctrine, that is the new view of the development of historical future.
Lenin describes the various Russian classes: liberal bourgeoisie, town and country petty-bourgeoisie (concealed by the label of «socialdemocratic» and «social- revolutionary» trends, as Lenin says) and revolutionary proletariat, as represented by the bolshevik party, let alone the «countless intermediate forms».
The polemical wiggling of those tendencies gives us an anticipated photographic image of the future open struggle among them; therefore, it was not the struggles and their aspects to give to each group the historical formula they were to follow. If anyone doubts that such was Lenin’s thought, let’s read:
«Abroad, the press of the political exiles discussed the theoretical aspects of all» (italics in the original) «the fundamental problems of the revolution.» (op. cit., p. 516).
The trends we mentioned
«anticipated and prepared the impending open class struggle by waging a most bitter struggle on issues of programme and tactics.» (op. cit., p. 516)
«All the issues on which the masses waged an armed struggle in 1905–07 and 1917–20 can (and should) be studied, in their embryonic form, in the press of the period.» (op. cit., p. 516)
The author insists on this concept:
«It would be more correct to say that those political and ideological trends which were genuinely of a class nature crystallised in the struggle of press organs, parties, factions and groups, the classes were forging the requisite political and ideological weapons for the impending battles.» (op. cit., p.516)
We're now making use of the already mentioned texts, edited in 1920, one in French and one in German, that we received from comrades who answered our appeal. For instance, in the above mentioned passage, after the words; «the impending open class struggle» the recent stalinian translation lacks of the sentence: and give anticipated portrayal of it. Lenin therefore believes that, like the trend polemics in the years before, the struggles would display a dress rehearsal of the revolution.
Here is the other side of «concretism», warning: first see what’s happening, then dare to speak. One more step, and the renown double-dealer comes up: You’ll be able to see who’s the strongest, and to swear that you’ve always been speaking like him, when you were busy with…, saying nothing.
Lenin’s position is therefore the opposite of the old commonplace, that contrasts the polemics of opposite doctrines with action: Do not waste time to write, to polemise, and to split into grouplets; let us enter the streets battlefield, and we'll learn everything!
Lenin’s, and ours, conclusion can be formulated as follows: the opportunist is the one for whom theory follows action, while for the revolutionary theory comes first.
«The years of revolution (1905–07). All classes came out into the open.» (op. cit., p. 516)
Here is why the lesson of masses’ action is necessary:
«All programmatical and tactical views were tested by the action of the masses.» (ibid.).
What is the meaning of this test? That the masses, in an objectively ripe situation (as was exactly that of a regime which had disappeared everywhere in Europe since half a century and, what’s more, which was coming from a disastrous war with Japan, therefore being into a total economical and political crisis), choose the direction of that party, the forecasts of which are best suitable to the thrust that moves them.
Lenin points out one of the original features of an antidespotic revolution where, owing to an advanced development of capitalist production, is present, especially in big cities, a true proletariat. For the first time it is not the matter of fights on barricades of a shapeless people, but to resort to the strike («In its extent and acuteness, the strike struggle had no parallel in the world.»). The strike was the lesson given by Western Europe workers; but from Russia the lesson comes back more than strengthened. The factory economical issue is no longer the goal of the strike; it is the new formula, that left-wing marxists had supported for a long time, to prevail:
«The economic strike developed into a political strike, and the latter into insurrection.» (ibid.).
In 1905 in Europe the Sorel-style revolutionary syndicalists, which we already mentioned before, were championing the general strike as the highest form of the proletarian struggle, as a revolutionary expression of class «direct action», where workers would act in person, with no representatives or intermediaries; which for them were not only the socialist M.P.s, but even the socialists parties themselves. Such an attitude was to be considered as extremely defeatist, but it was somehow justified by the behaviour of the socialist parties of the time, which opposed strikes, deprecated the general strike and were against its use.
How superior was the position of the Russian proletariat, which had not only learnt from the example of the workers’ masses of countries with a far more developed and less young industry, but which had also been following, since then, a revolutionary political party that had been able to put itself at the centre and at the lead of the colossal strikes of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Odessa, Warsaw, etc. It is evident that nobody could then deny the political content of the strike and of the struggle as a whole, which was opposed by the tsarist police with its exterminating massacres. Political strike; insurrectional strike; strike led by a revolutionary party: here is the test not just of merely Russian polemics, but of polemics extended to the entire Europe.
The dialectical interpretation of the Russian situation was of course so powerful as to allow the connection between the revolutionary and class war nature of the proletarian line and the overthrowing, not only of a despotic regime, but even of a western-type, liberal bourgeois one.
That is what left wing marxists in Europe was asserting, and that were evident after the great October victory in Russia.
Our text keeps showing the significance of the immense, historical, «test». It proceeds in great laps.
«The relations between the proletariat, as the leader, and the vacillating and unstable peasantry, as the led» (by the former), «were tested in practice». (ibid.)
Another great lesson of the Russian revolution is the dominant role of highly populated cities, which place themselves at the head of the revolution, because there lives the great industrial proletariat. It is the lesson of Europe’s 1846, when Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Milan and so on rose up in arms. But at that time in the cities, together with the not yet united and mature workers (as they would become in the course of the second half of the century), intellectuals, students, etc., were participating to the struggle, and the doctrine of the proletariat as the hegemonic class was not yet completed. Provinces and peasantry slowly followed, when they didn’t actually give rise to Vandees. But as regards the theory of the agrarian question and the agrarian tactics, the Italian example was in the mind of Lenin, who eagerly relied on proletarian peasants long before than on «poor» peasants, which has been hard to understand for many.
In Lenin’s theses the poor peasant is not so much the owner of a little land (with far worse conditions of life, then, if compared to the city’s wage labourer), as it is chiefly the rural wage labourer, which in Russia was present in a relatively small number. There were countries, among which the Italian situation was typical, where the labourer with no land, the pure farm-hand, not only statistically prevailed in number on all other strata of the agrarian population, it also had a first-rate tradition of class struggle, not inferior to that of urban labourers. Italy had already given the example of great general political strikes, in which the country-side had played a non-secondary role if compared to the cities, and ere the farm labourers had fought with great and memorable revolutionary spirit. Fascism was a movement of rural petty-bourgeoisie, hired by the bourgeois state, and of the big rural and urban bourgeoisie, set up to destroy the organisations of farm labourers, first, and then those of urban workers, The former were not certainly less combative than the latter; but strategic reasons, of a class war where the bourgeoisie took the initiative of using state military forces, made it possible to attack the rural reds with smaller groups than in the cities, by concentrating squads of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois youth, supported by state detachments, against a little populated district, its proletarians, its workers’ associations. In view of the unfavourable conditions in which it was carried on, the history of rural proletarian defence is simply heroical; and urban proletarians yielded after a smaller resistance only owing to the lack of a nationwide organisation of the struggle, thanks to the sabotage of both rightists and centrists of the political movement.
This is not a digression from the subject, as this very text is there to show us how to draw lessons from a defeat. But they are instead drawn in contrast with the historical facts, and in contrast with Lenin’s teaching, when the scoundrels of social-communist parties aim at deproletarising the farm-labourers, and place before their interests those of small holders, tenants and share-croppers, not just the poor and semi-poor ones, but even the middle and rich strata; that is, of those strata that provide effectives for fascist squads, although big bourgeoisie swindled them by means of fascism, and will swindle them today by means of the social-communist betrayal of the revolution.
We want it to be clear that the classical formula of Lenin: the proletariat as the leader, and the vacillating, unstable peasantry, as the led, has the rural labourers within the revolutionary, leading vanguard, rather than within the vacillating and unstable mass. If the vanguard has a party that does not betray, then the vacillating mass will move to the side of the revolution; but if the party betrays or fails, then it will make the opposite oscillation, and will fall under the fascist or democratic influence, which in both cases means that it will be dominated by the counterrevolutionary capitalist bourgeoisie.
The whole text is to be read while bearing in mind that its aim is to put the contributions of the Russian test at the service of the western revolution. It answers the question: are the famous soviets or workers’ and peasants’ councils, which appeared in the course of 1905 revolution and were the protagonists of the 1917 bolshevik revolution, a merely Russian form, or are they of such a nature as to be applicable in all countries? The first answer could be founded on the Russian situation in those years, with a minority of industrial proletarians and a large majority of peasants; but the position of Lenin is quite dialectical. If in such a situation the revolutionary function of soviets was secured by the presence of the revolutionary class party, which conquered the soviets against the opportunists and led the insurrection as well as the proletarian power, that’s all the more reason why such a course is more favourable in the west, where peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie have a smaller social importance (although not negligible); the above on the condition that the revolutionary marxist party defeats, within the revolutionary organisations, the opportunists whose function in the first war was to yoke the semiproletarian strata, thus enfeebling the true proletariat itself, to the national, bourgeois cart (and what else are the opportunists doing, in their spreading that took place after World War II?).
The short sentence of Lenin is the following:
«The Soviet form of organisation comes into being in the spontaneous development of the struggle. The controversies of that period over the significance of the Soviets anticipated the great struggle of 1917–20.» (op. cit., p. 516–7)
In order to clearly understand that we did not end up, and that we shall not end up, with a utopian faith in the «new form», similar to the watchword «the soviet is always right», we will quote, before the indispensable explanation, another passage, that comes in the following pages:
«As history would have it, the Soviets came into being in Russia in 1905; from February to October 1917 they were turned to a false use by the Mensheviks, who went bankrupt because of their inability to understand the role and significance of the Soviets; today the idea of Soviet power has emerged throughout the world» (underlined by Lenin) «and is spreading among the proletariat of all countries with extraordinary speed. Like our Mensheviks, the old heroes of the Second International are everywhere going bankrupt, because they are incapable of understanding the role and significance of the Soviets.» (op. cit., p. 519)
On the other hand, when Lenin dealt with the second revolution (February to October 1917), he said:
«In a few weeks the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries thoroughly assimilated all the methods and manners, the arguments and sophistries of the European heroes of the Second International, of the ministerialists and other opportunist riff-raff.» (ibid.)
Why then shouldn’t the heroes of today’s shipwreck raft of the IIIrd International go likewise bankrupt, after having relegated to Russia the historical function of soviets, while worshipping in the west that of parliaments, ready to be nominated ministers by them, as often happened? All this is so evident that our commentary on soviets, in Lenin’s thought is barely necessary,
It is known that of the first quoted sentence, on the coming into being of the soviet from the spontaneous development of the struggle, is made use to depict Lenin as the theoretician of «spontaneity»; in keeping with it, the communist party should just wait for the masses to discover or invent the forms of the revolution, without daring to foresee them in advance.
Such a banality recalls on the one hand the way of thinking of the most fierce enemies of Lenin (who lashes them even here), the revisionists, who did not want to speak of ends, but only of the movements as an end in itself, or which chooses its own goals in an unexpectable way; on the other, that of idealists like Gramsci, who saw Lenin throwing away the marxist determinism and inventing new forms!
Soviets, it may be said, had not been prophesised by any theoretician; they are not in Marx’s books, nor had Lenin pointed out at them. But this sophism consists in the ignorance of the function and «international» importance of the soviets, that Lenin attributes to mensheviks and centrists (a little further he will attack the idealists, seeing them as the left-wing infantiles; and it is worth remarking that Italian left-wingers had defended at every step both materialism and determinism).
The soviets are the organisational form of the proletarian power, and they can also be termed as the constitutional form of the proletarian state. The theory of the revolution is not only indispensable, it also existed in the terms that Lenin here vindicates. It would be utopian to describe the organisational forms of the future society, of the future state; we are within the theory of scientifical communism when we describe the forces of the revolution and their connections, which are economical, social and political connections among classes. The workers’ and peasants’ council form can’t be found among the principles of doctrine, which is for Marx and Lenin indispensable to the party of the revolution; but within the soviets are the non-capitalist characters of the revolutionary society, the characters of the clash among classes: class struggle, insurrection, dictatorship, terror.
Theory, as Lenin above all vindicated, had clearly written this; but it had not the right to write the constitution of the new state. Both theoretically and in principle, the established state, in our meaning, is an indispensable as well as temporary weapon of history, like classes and the organisational class forms (trade unions, soviets); only the political party, presently a class organ, can be considered eternal, as an organ of mankind. The party is defined by its content, that is the historical doctrine and the revolutionary action; the other organisations are defined by their form, and can be filled with various contents.
Which are then the theses that Lenin turns into an extraordinary synthesis?
1. The Russian struggle historically revealed the soviet form in 1905.
2. Revolutionary marxists saw the soviet as the organ of proletarian power; opportunists on the contrary tried to subordinate it to themselves, succeeding in it in many times and places, in order to empty it of its content and to maintain that it was to disappear after the struggle, or that it could coexist in a democratic republic beside an elected parliament.
3. The formula «all power to the soviets» must not be launched as long as they are in the hands of mensheviks or the like, but only when it leads to the power of the communist party.
4. (IInd Congress). In western countries, before the phase of the struggle for power, soviets must not be artificially created, precisely because no form is automatically revolutionary.
Soviets bring forth the proletarian dictatorship, as it was established in our doctrine before its appearance in history (Marx for 1848 and 1871 France, in Lenin: «The State and Revolution»), because both bourgeois and landowners have no access to them, in the course of elections from periphery to the centre. If a regularly elected chamber was to exist besides them, and it formed a government, soviets would be an empty mask. Here’s the discussion of 1905, verified by the facts of 1917!
This is the lesson of the history of XIXth and XXth centuries. Before the French revolution a theory of it exists already, although mistaken. It is clear in it the relationship among forces: destruction of the first state (nobility and monarchy) and of the second estate (clergy), but the programme of the new power is: Power to all citizens, to all people; and not (as marxism discovered, thus giving the facts their true «soul»: Introduction to «A Critique of Political Economy») power to the third estate, that is to the bourgeoisie. The theory of Voltaire and Rousseau in XVIIIth century gives the content of the revolution, but it cannot describe its constitutional form. It admires the Greek and Roman tradition, but those democracies had the people in the square, i.e., the assembly of all free men: a direct democracy of a minority, as the majority was slave. From the spontaneous development of the struggles, even after 1789, the various forms, formerly unforeseeable, arose: national assembly, constituent assembly, convention… matrices of the followed elected chambers of the XVIIIth century. Even the historical English example was only afterwards, with the double chamber, and was theorised post-festum. Which, in turn, was born from the struggle between two different classes: industrial bourgeoisie and landowners.
The soviet therefore, we can say, is to the revolution in which capitalism falls as the constitutional parliament is to the revolution in which feudalism falls. They are the structures in which the states coming from the revolution that destroyed the ancient regime get organised. In this context we call them forms of state organisation, which is a different thing from social forms or successive modes of production. The old revolutions were not previously conscious of them, because they concealed to themselves the birth of a new ruling class; but our revolution, with its own theory, is conscious of it, and knows the true characters that will have the capitalist social mode contrasted by the communist one, which at the end will be classless, and therefore with no ruling class.
The menshevik and bourgeois view of the Russian revolution aimed at enclosing it within a form of state mechanism, similar to that of capitalist countries: electoral democracy. The marxist and bolshevik view foresaw and knew that the revolution would not stop until the victory of the proletariat, hegemonic on the poor classes, and therefore until its dictatorship. In our studies on the Russian revolution we recalled that even before 1903 Lenin had proposed the formula: Democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In 1917 he is back in Russia, and announces the complete, universal, international formula, centre of the marxist doctrine of the revolution: Proletarian dictatorship.
All of Lenin’s work aims at establishing that the Russian revolution does not develop according to «local» specific formulae; although it had for years expected to be a late democratic revolution, the fact that in it, since 1905–1907 phase, the working classes fight in, the front line and develop in the course of the struggle a form of their own, the soviet, turns it into an immediate proletarian class revolution, which fills the new form of itself, and makes it a non-interclassist, non-democratic, non-popular and non-populist, but a rather classist form, internationally bound to the vanguard proletariat, internally led by the marxist party, and therefore appeared to be filled with the content that the revolutionary theory had foreseen with certainty: class power, class state, class dictatorship, all of them are ends that history cannot achieve but when the class is organised into a party, as written in 1848 Manifesto. And it can organise itself into a ruling class, for the destruction of the class society, because power, state and dictatorship are a function of the party.
We've already seen that another thesis of Lenin, that we always championed with him against the real infantiles, is that the soviet does not exclude the party, as many in Europe believed, it rather requires its presence and efficiency, because the soviet is a simple form of organisation which must be filled with a content, and the party is the only force in the history able to do it.
The first newspaper of the Italian Left was «Il Soviet». It opposed the proposal of many maximalists, of creating soviets in Italy in 1919. It stated that it was necessary a revolutionary party, free from opportunists, endowed with a clear theory. It maintained, against the immediatist views, that soviets were not a trade unions or factory councils network, but rather the territorial and centralised tissue of the new proletarian state, whose framework was to rise up in the course of the insurrection; they were therefore organs of a political nature, but their structure needed the active function of the revolutionary party, for the revolution to win. And these teachings were drawn, as was for Lenin, from the Russian lessons of history, which perfectly matched with our doctrine’s classical design.
Reality brings about the forms, but theory foresees the content, i.e., the forces, together with their relationship and clashes. In these lapidary passages, if we believe the German translation we're using, Lenin utilised the word «to prophesy».
«The controversies of 1905–1907 over the importance of the Soviets prophesied the great struggles of 1917–20».
Those who are not afraid to commit themselves to prophesy the future are followers of leninism, rather than those who lean and waver.
Although we've already said that we'll devote the final part of this study, which can be considered as a separate study on its own, to the question of parliamentary tactics, we cannot avoid dealing now with an important aspect of the comparison, made by Lenin, between the historical experience of the bolshevik party’s struggle in the two revolutions and what was at the time inferred from it as regards the tactics to be adopted by revolutionaries in the various countries. At the bottom of the issue was the necessity to correctly act in order to spread, in the years to come after 1920, the revolution from Russia to Europe, the only way for the victory of socialism in both Europe and Russia. There’s therefore no right whatsoever to invoke these 1920 conclusions, and even the statement of the historical problem set and faced by Lenin, for the fools who attribute to him, thus making the most gigantic forgery in history, the intention of abandoning the European revolution to its fate and to go ahead with socialism only in Russia.
In the 1920 situation enormous errors appeared when judgements on Russian events were given. The party and the International were not only worried by the forgeries of socialchauvinists, who defamed the October revolution by denying its proletarian and socialist content, but even by the so-called leftist interpretations, fraught with antimarxist and counterrevolutionary mistakes, such as those we've already mentioned, i.e., to deny the function of the political party, by assuming that the soviet form had eliminated it; or to have flirtatious ways with anarchism (Lenin alludes to them in several passages); to say that the Russian revolution had abolished the state, that soviets were not the tissue of the proletarian state (a temporary one, but with an historical life span, sufficient to spread the revolution over Europe), but rather an ephemeral array of insurgent crowds.
When it is clear that the parliament form, peculiar to the antifeudal revolution, must be rapidly destroyed to be substituted by the soviet form of the proletarian dictatorship, and that this is the end, not a last and remote one, but rather immediate, of the whole struggle, then the problem of whether using or not the parliamentary means acquires a mere party strategy and tactics nature. The traditional abstentionism of the anarchist, always fought by the Marxist Left, and especially in Italy, is an individual and not a class attitude. As the collective struggle must lead to a stateless society (and we join, with Lenin, this position, in contrast with the right-wing socialtraitors), what does it mean to say: As within my personal «conscience» I have solved the problem, I boycott the state, that is, in 1960, in 1920 or in 1870, I do not vote.
It is obvious that this is not an historical solution, but rather a childish behaviour.
On which grounds does Lenin reject such petty-bourgeois opportunism? It must be understood, although his dialectical position is not a simple one.
As the whole world is looking at Russia – with admiration or with horror –, Lenin is here to testify what Russia has done, and especially about the Russian proletariat and the bolshevik party, that led its revolution.
There are two «test periods» for bolshevik tactics, 1905–1907 and 1917–1920, separated by a waiting time (incidentally, we must remember, for our own use, that today we're living a far longer waiting time). Lenin shows that we won because we kept away from two dangers: socialdemocratism, that has its limits in the liberal, and therefore bourgeois, state form, and anarchism, which believes it is possible to crush such a form by means of an ideological negation, thus behaving like the ostrich, who believes he’s escaped the enemy by burying its own head in the sand.
The bolsheviks had a broad range of tactics, in the two mentioned historical periods. Here’s how Lenin summarises the first one:
«The alternation of parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, of the tactics of boycotting parliament and that of participating in parliament, of legal and illegal forms of struggle, and likewise their interrelations and connections – all this was marked by an extraordinary wealth of content. As for teaching the fundamentals of political science to masses and leaders, to classes and parties alike, each month of this three year period was equivalent to an entire year of «peaceful» and «constitutional» development. Without the ‹dress rehearsal› of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 would have been impossible.» (op. cit., p. 517)
«Tsarism’s senility and obsoleteness had (with the aid of the blows and hardships of a most agonising war) created an incredibly destructive force directed against it. Within a few days Russia was transformed into a democratic bourgeois republic, freer – in war conditions – than any other country in the world.» (op. cit., p. 518)
We note that this is the central idea for Lenin, but, dialectically, it is the opposite of solidarity with such a form that rises.
«The leaders of the opposition and revolutionary parties began to set up a government, just as is done in the most «strictly parliamentary» republics; the fact that a man had been a leader of an opposition party in parliament – even in a most reactionary parliament – facilitated his subsequent role in the revolution.» (op. cit., p. 519–20)
In 1920 we asked Lenin if, first of all, such an advantage was rather peculiar to the «most reactionary parliament»; and if it was true that he had himself exposed the further counterrevolutionary role of those parliamentary leaders. But here our purpose is of presenting, with the highest accuracy, the construction of Lenin. A little further:
«Despite views that are today often to be met with in Europe and America, the Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary and (in fact) bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks in a very cautious manner, and the preparations they made for it were by no means simple. At the beginning of the period mentioned, we did not call for the overthrow of the government but explained that it was impossible to overthrow it without first changing the composition and the temper of the Soviets. We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, the Constituent Assembly, but said – and following the April (1917) Conference of our Party began to state officially in the name of the Party – that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly would be better than a bourgeois republic without a Constituent Assembly, but that a ‹workers’ and peasants’› republic, would be better than any bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary republic. Without such thorough, circumspect, prudent and long preparations, we could not have achieved victory in October 1917, or have maintained up to now that victory.» (op. cit., p. 519–20)
It is true that in April 1917, that is soon after his arrival in Russia, when he gave the famous, historical accelerator stroke to the bolshevik action that astonished his comrades, Lenin believed it correct to defend himself against a low attack of the menshevik Goldenberg, who had treated him like a raving madman (nothing to do with prudent circumspection!), and wrote in «Pravda»: And they pretend that I am against a rapid convocation of the Constituent Assembly!!!
But historical research enables us today to give the words of Lenin their right meaning: to achieve the brilliant result of dispersing with the force the elected Constituent Assembly, it was necessary a far more efficacious action than the ghastly one of those who would have urged the masses as follows: let all assemblies of the world be elected, what counts is not to vote, and not to set foot in the assembly!
This must be said to the scoundrels, who draw from the 1946 Italian constituent assembly (which was not born from a movement of masses, but rather from the delivery of a clan of degenerate political leaders by means of the American and Allied fleet and army) the historical credit, in order to satisfy the proletarian expectations, of an eternal time, where months are not equivalent to years, as for Lenin, but years are equivalent to months or weeks; and of mawkish counts of ballots, that are still the same after countless repetitions.
As Lenin has led us to the April Conference and to its remarkable platform, that the party officially adopted, it is worth referring to it.
The provisional government is defined as a class, bourgeois government, and opposition to it is declared.
Its foreign policy is defined imperialist, connected to the bourgeois powers of the Entente.
The agreement between Provisional Government and Soviet is denounced as an evidence of the influence of the listed petty-bourgeois parties. Russia is defined as the most petty-bourgeois of all European countries; the above is therefore termed as an intoxication of the proletariat.
The moment does not require insurrectional tactics, but it is rather necessary to «pour vinegar and bile into the water of revolutionary-democratic phraseology».
These proposals may seem to be nothing more than propaganda work, but in reality they are a «practical revolutionary work», even without giving the direction of taking up arms (which even in July will be wrong for Lenin). Here is the April tactics: Work of criticism. Preparation and welding of the elements of a consciously proletarian, Communist Party. Liberation of the proletariat from the general petty- bourgeois intoxication. It’s worth noting that the party’s consciousness is opposed to the «unreasoning trust of masses».
We'll stop a little, to wonder whether the artificial display of anti-fascism in Italy, 17 years after the fall of fascism, and the success of such a super-idiot formula, are in connection with a state of «unreasoning trust of masses»; without the presence of the conscious party, and with no chance of substituting it with a falsely leftist, infantile phraseology.
The next section is against revolutionary defencism: that is, the situation we'll have again with Brest-Litovsk in 1918. Although Lenin is here very patient with the masses, who believe that after the tsar’s fall there’s a revolutionary fatherland to be defended, the thesis says, unhesitatingly:
«The slightest concession to revolutionary defencism is a betrayal of socialism, a complete renunciation of internationalism.» (From «The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution: Draft Platform for the Proletarian Party», «Collected Works», Vol. 24, p. 65)
On the end of the war. The first step is to turn the imperialist war into a civil war. The second must be the transfer of state power to the proletariat.
On the type of state. The parliamentary democratic republic is the most perfect, the most advanced type of bourgeois state. The new type appeared with the Paris Commune, and is today impersonated by the soviets. The democratic state, and its apparatus (that must be smashed), dominates the masses from above, soviets move from the bottom up.
The International. The text of April is not second to that of May 1920 in stigmatising both the socialchauvinist right and the centre, the representatives of which are listed, from Kautsky to Turati. The majority of Zimmerwald is criticised for its «socialpacifism», and the foundation of the IIIrd International is announced. Of a special interest today is the judgement on pacifism.
«Those who confine themselves to «demanding» that the bourgeois governments should conclude peace or ‹ascertain the will of the people for peace›, etc., are actually slipping into reformism. For, objectively, the problem of the war can be solved only in a revolutionary way.» (ibid., p. 80)
Both the peace and the liberation of peoples from the consequences of the war (debts)…, can only be achieved by means of the proletarian revolution, There’s no other way out.
The way the modern «official» leninists reconcile the above theses with the following: first, the construction of socialism in one country; second, the avoidability of the war by means of the will of the peoples; third, the détente and the peaceful coexistence, be it between states with a different regime, or between states with analogous regimes, that’s no use to ask them.
The final part of the April platform is on the changing of name of the Russian party, from socialdemocratic to communist.
The arguments are classic and well known. We shall only recall some formulations, to end with the demonstration that Lenin’s tactical prudence is miles from the distortion and omission of principles, as the sentences from the party public document of the difficult April 1917 have already demonstrated. In it is confirmed the true nature of the opportunist plague, a deep problem in 1920 and even more deep nowadays.
There are two scientifical arguments against the name socialdemocracy, in keeping with the frequent warnings of Marx and Engels. The first term is wrong, because socialism is for us a temporary end, on the way to communism. The second term is wrong because «democracy is a form of state, whereas we marxists are opposed to every kind of state.» Our full programme is communism with no state. Which means: communism with no democracy.
Many passages of «‹Left-wing› communism» remind and paraphrase, almost every sentence, the following passage:
«We are marxists and we take as our basis the ‹Communist Manifesto›, which has been distorted and betrayed by the Social-Democrats on two main points: the working men have no country: ‹defence of the fatherland› in an imperialist war is a betrayal of socialism; and the Marxist doctrine of the state has been distorted by the Second International.» (ibid., p. 84)
The historical phenomenon of opportunism, if we may with our words summarise the content of half a century of polemical battles, consists in making, at a given, important turning-point of the historical situation – with the purpose of doing the opposite of what the party had always proclaimed –, a sensational «discovery».
The history of the betrayal is a history of «discoveries», administered in crucial moments to the proletariat, that do to its rulers the favour of confusing and weakening the workers.
Each time one of such «discoveries» appears, a formula that seemed reliable and definitive is, when the moment comes to put it into practice, emptied and broken to pieces. One of these formulae, which we shall use here as a clear example, is from the Manifesto, quoted here by Lenin: the working men have no country. And: they cannot be deprived of what they don’t have. It is the classic answer to the old «objections» to communism,
In Russia the majority of the proletarian movement, at the outbreak of the war in 1914, did not feel up to saying that the Russian workers should defend a country personified by the tsar. Only a few socialist leaders dared to advocate the «defencist» thesis of the alleged German aggression, and, sad to say, among them was the master of Lenin, Plekhanov.
But after the tsar’s downfall in February 1917 defencism spread. After the concession of a parliamentary democracy (which only consisted in a provisional government of the party leaders of the old Duma, as Lenin explains) almost all political leaders announced to the masses that now they had found a country and that it was the case of taking up the arms to defend it, which caused an immense delight to the Anglo-French democracies.
Lenin, as we have seen, had to oppose this hateful forgery with all his might and main.
Things were not quite different in Italy. It is known that at the outbreak of World War 1 only a very few people within the socialist party justified, the social- defencism of the Germans, French, etc. But there were some, even in the first months and before the foul betrayal of Mussolini.
Among them was Paoloni, a poor devil that we recall only for the odd coincidence that he was a sort of expert in low level propaganda. He was editor of a little newspaper, «Il Seme» (the seed), that costed one cent (as to say, today, less than five liras). For decades it had made, of course, a lot of propaganda on the «Communist Manifesto». When we reminded this person of the famous phrase that cannot be forgotten he, who had never dared to say or write it before, poured out the shameless explanation: Yes, in 1848 Marx said that working men have no country, because he was referring to countries where the democratic vote had not yet been achieved. But, wherever it has been achieved, the phrase is no longer valid, and the proletarians of a parliamentary republic, or even of a constitutional monarchy, have acquired a country to defend on the battlefields.
Here is the discovery. Discovery, not because a truth has been found, but because, on the contrary, an explanation is passed off that in a so long lapse of time, from 1848 till 1914, year of the imperialist war, nobody had thought to give.
Discovery and surprise. But such waves of shameful swindle can in a few days destroy the work efforts of decades, of the whole party, or at least of the sound part of it.
Quite similar is the question of democracy and the state. For decades, nothing changing in the marxist critique, it has been propagated the formula according to which even in the most democratic republic the state is a machinery to exploit the proletariat in the interests of the bourgeoisie. In a few days following August 1st, 1914, it is «discovered» that it means nothing when the state is aggressed; when we have to choose between two states, democratic to a different extent; when it is the matter of reuniting a province to its nationality and language; and for hundreds of more reasons.
These matters have all been thoroughly examined by marxism, with reference to all geographical areas and to all historical periods, and cannot easily be translated into formulae; but when a settlement is believed to have been reached, it ends up like the famous Stuttgart and Basel resolutions; they say it was right to vote them, but the situation had different developments, if compared to those expected at the time; and they discover that, in the only case in which they are enforced, there are good reasons to shamelessly violate them.
The lesson of the struggle against opportunism by Lenin and by the IIIrd International is that, if we want to defeat it, we must claim the possibility of «writing in advance the formulae that are to be strictly respected in the high moment of the historical event.» The party therefore foresees the situations to come, and outlines its plans of action for them.
From the examination of the pages of Lenin and of the whole, vibrant history of his life and battles, no other conclusions can be drawn. He wanted to build a theory and an organisation that could not be overwhelmed, as was the case, at the beginning of August 1914, for both the doctrines of «official» marxist socialism and the organism of the IInd International.
This can be read in every page and every line, by comparing the historical events and their clear developments, rather than with a pedantic work of literal exegesis.
As Lenin exposed those who said that it was wrong not to defend the country, and that socialism foretells a democratic state, the same shame must fall today on those who maintain that working classes’ interests can legally coexist with a democratic constitution, that a pacifist campaign can avoid the war and substitute it with a harmless emulative competition among states with different regimes (which are not different indeed), or that mingling proletarian demands with those of petty-bourgeois (and middle class!) strata is no longer an infection and dulling of the revolutionary vigour, but rather a proletarian success.
If those who today say all the above things (and we can hear even worse ones on patriotism, legalitarianism, moralism and so on) confessed they're going back to the positions of Kerenski, Scheidemann, Turati, Renaudel, and the many others who were branded with a hot iron by Lenin, we would have present-day and past opportunisms as Siamese twins.
But if the spokesman of so many infamies pretend to find their justifications in the pages of Lenin, and in those of Marx and Engels, after that Lenin had clearly brought them out again, then we must say that today’s opportunism can receive no forgiveness, and is to be cursed three times more than the first one; and that its results, as it can be seen everywhere, are of a ten times worse defeatism; and that the more it is praiseworthy for the bourgeois counterrevolution.
In the preceding pages we aimed at pointing out the right method to make use of the fundamental texts of the revolutionary theory. They must be placed within the setting of the time they appeared and of the struggles then taking place, to be able to find, along the course of their development, the motives that caused their writing and propagation, as well as the aims those revolutionaries intended to achieve. We have given an overall picture of Lenin’s writing, and then developed the presentation and comment of its first chapters; when such a work will be advanced enough, every militant or group of comrades of our organisation will be able to read it through while drawing from it the right conclusions.
A given party text does not become widely known and quoted by virtue of the literary notoriousness of its author, but rather because its passing, not so much from reader to reader, as from group to group and from section to section within the party and the movement, meets a real necessity of the struggle and gives fruitful and powerful solutions to class problems in important moments of history and, when it is the matter of stages of the unique revolutionary line, even to problems of the future.
Such a method is diametrically opposed to the wicked one of taking isolated quotations out of context, and of using them out of their time, their origin and of their purposes, in order to distort and falsify; that is the way the mortal enemies of Lenin used the works of Marx and Engels, and for the «Tables» of party doctrine. Lenin himself was author and master of our collective method of drawing lessons from history, and of choosing the representations of history that are vital oxygen of each struggling movement, and of ours above all.
As our goal is not of publishing an edition of Lenin’s «‹Left-wing› communism» with explanatory footnotes like an annotated Dante’s book – which would be a remarkable work, if our work hands and diffusion media in there striking times were less slight; and quod differtur non aufertur – we believe having given so far enough practical proofs on our method of reading Lenin, and to be able to draw the conclusions on all general and world issues on the method of proletarian struggle. A brief reference to the «Italian» questions will serve to establish that the tactical disagreement between Lenin and ourselves (already obsolete in the 1920 situation here dealt with), and even the tactical disagreement of the years following the illness and death of Lenin, are negligible differences, for two reasons. The first one is that the Italian Left, as Lenin realises in this text, was on his side in the struggle against the libertarian petty-bourgeois infantilism, which we prefer calling immediatist and not left-wing (our school has always denied that anarchists are at the left of marxists, yesterday, today or tomorrow), as well as in comparing this opportunism with the right wing one; in Italy the most imbued with such an error was the gramscian current (ordinovism, or movement of factory councils), but nevertheless we fairly managed to bring it into the marxist field, by accepting their very flexible party discipline, even with reference to parliamentary participation. The other reason is that, like Lenin, who had always seen the right wing socialdemocratic opportunism as the worst enemy, the Italian Left was the first to see that danger rise within the IIIrd International, and to fight it in the further congresses. The recent events have demonstrated the correctness of such a violent reaction of ours; which would have been unfounded, also for Lenin, if it meant a relapse into left wing infantilism, but which instead was carried on the pure ground of marxism, as is demonstrated by the exact previsions of the degenerations of the thirty and more years to come.
The above can be proved by a comparison between this text, which we devoured word by word in Moscow in 1920, and the ignoble one coming from Moscow in 1960 after a meeting of false communist and workers’ parties; the latter raises to the rank of a proclamation of principle the repudiation of all bolshevik, leninist lessons of October 1917. But it is for those very lessons that Lenin rises in his greatness, although on certain issues he is not sufficiently pessimist, as for a likely comeback of pacifist, and collaborationist with the capital, «senilism».
While leaving to the comrades the task of the detailed comparison of the texts, we shall summarise the cardinal points of the theses of Lenin’s «‹Left-wing› communism».
See the «Introduction».
In this chapter we made use of the German and French texts, as quoted in the «Introduction».