Terrorism and the difficult road to a general revival of the class struggle
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Terrorism and the difficult road to a general revival of the class struggle
The insufficient responses of the «left»
A long struggle on two fronts
At first the rupture
Next, surpassing the narrow limits of individualist terrorism

Terrorism and the difficult road to a general revival of the class struggle (I)
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We base our critique of individual terrorism on Marxism, which recognises class violence as the midwife of history and provides the only path and the only force capable of linking it with the sporadic episodes of proletarian violence against bourgeois oppression. This critique must first show the material social causes of a phenomenon which regularly appears in the history of the struggle between classes; it must then analyse its characteristic ideology, its basic features and its different historical forms. This analysis must be based on the only possible perspective, that of the proletarian class struggle-a struggle which in a future objective situation inevitably must end in an open war. In this war the party provides the necessary organisation, orientation and discipline of the proletarian forces. Although this ultimate confrontation between classes is certainly some distance away, it is now that we must begin to prepare for it, politically as well as materially.

To supplement the numerous articles already published in our press (1), we will begin here by referring back to the classical works of the Marxist movement.

• • •

«A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not on social peace. In certain periods of acute economic and political crises the class struggle ripens into a direct civil war [...]. Any moral condemnation of civil war would be absolutely impermissible from the standpoint of Marxism» (2).

In these lines Lenin condenses the fundamental principles which must guide Marxists in their analysis of the different immediate manifestations of terrorism, in their appreciation of the role and importance of the «armed struggle conducted by individuals and small groups». These manifestations occur in many different situations but they are all part of an inevitable and unrestrainable process which, if not always civil war, is never social peace.

In the analysis of a particular manifestation of «terrorism», these considerations of principle prohibit in advance any attempt to base a judgement on anything other than the unswerving, permanent opposition to the ruling class's state - a fundamental characteristic of communists. They prohibit not only any open declaration of social pacifism (as is characteristic of the official «Communist» Parties) but also the more subtle and more dangerous positions which attempt to dodge the problem, refusing to openly and consistently take up the perspective of the class struggle with all this inevitably entails-something which is a necessity for Marxists even when the struggle has not yet burst out into open war.

From the standpoint of these criteria, Marxists can no more «deplore» the phenomenon of individual terrorism than they can «deplore» whatever other manifestation of the endemic crises of bourgeois society. They must first show its material causes and its historical roots, then pose the following question: what significance does this phenomenon have from the point of view of the class struggle, not in general or in the abstract, but here and now? How must it be considered with respect to the development of the class struggle which sooner or later (and today we must admit that it will not be the case of the near future) «in certain periods of acute economic and social crises» must develop into civil war? What task does it impose on a party which must not «make» but lead the revolution, which must, as Lenin said, give the revolution its stamp? What task does it impose on a party which knows in advance that the day of revolution will be reached only through an uneven course of ups and downs with elementary and spontaneous small clashes preceding the great battle, a party which cannot direct this battle if it has not actively prepared itself for it by working to take leadership of these preliminary struggles? In particular, how must the party respond to those who reduce the whole class struggle to terrorism and make it the one and only means of action by the class party, assuming that with such a perspective one could still speak of a party. Those who refuse violence in general, armed struggle in general and terrorism in general are by definition outside of Marxism, but it is not sufficient to demand all these in general (i.e. to demand revolution in general) to have the right to call oneself a Marxist.

The insufficient responses of the «left»
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Many so-called «left» groups pretend to respond in a Marxist way against «terrorism as an absolute method» (or terrorism «as a principle»). But in reality their responses are completely insufficient and reveal an attempt to cover up the fact that they hedge and hesitate on the question of violence and terrorism in general. Lenin gives us the basic guidelines to follow on this question in the first chapter of Guerrilla Warfare from which we have quoted above. He writes:

«Let us begin from the beginning. What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle? In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not «concoct» them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim whatever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by «systematisers» in the seclusion of their studies. We know-said Kautsky, for instance, when examining the forms of social revolution-that the coming crisis will introduce new forms of struggle that we are now unable to foresee.
In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national, cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.

Thus it is not sufficient to respond to the terrorist ideology as follows: you are for individual violence and we are for class violence, collective violence; this is what distinguishes Marxism from «revolutionary adventurism». Such a formulation is insufficient polemically and has negative effects on the work of the revolutionary preparation of the working class. The grain of truth it contains is that only the violence exercised by the proletariat is the midwife of history-that is to say only the violence of the one revolutionary class in capitalist society, the class which in its arduous struggle is armed with its indispensable organ of the party in order to centralise all its efforts to emancipate itself and in order to direct all the elementary pushes, even «irrational» ones, towards the objective of the seizure of power.

It is also true-and this is something which the theoreticians of anarcho-spontaneous terrorism do not understand-that this objective is not realisable at any given moment. It can be reached only by passing through successive phases where we see not small groups of conspirators or daring individuals entering into the struggle but always greater masses who are set into motion not at all by their «consciousness» or by an internalisation of a rational plan of action, but by the pressure of their material conditions of life. It is undeniable that the supreme demonstration of class violence, insurrection, which ushers in the conquest and dictatorial exercise of power, can only be the «art» that it must be in order to assure victory insofar as it rests «not upon a Party (3), but upon the advanced class». It is possible only insofar as it is based on the «revolutionary upsurge of the people» and knows how to seize this «turning point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest». It is certain that terrorism, whether old or new, whether of the anarchist type at the end of the 19th Century or of Baader and the Red Brigades today, totally ignores these conditions for, as we shall see, it cannot but ignore them.

The boundary line between individual and collective violence, however, is not at all absolute. During the insurrection and in the movement which leads up to it, it is not only the vanguard class which enters into struggle and battles the enemy, but also along with it a fringe of layers and subdivisions of the «people». In such a situation it is pure sophistry to oppose individual terrorism to collective terrorism or even to try to find a clear limit between the two. It is sophistry to pretend that in such a mass (and consequently collective) movement one can exclude or eliminate violent and terrorist initiatives by «individuals and small groups» of the proletariat. It is pure sophistry to pretend that the party must oppose these actions instead of placing them under its direct control. It is sophistry fitting of academicians and armchair revolutionaries, and it serves no other purpose than to indefinitely put off revolutionary violence, the revolution, and the class dictatorship.

In 1906, Lenin spoke of the growing number of armed actions by «individuals and small groups» which «aim at assassinating individuals, chiefs and subordinates in the army and police [or else at] the confiscation of monetary funds both from the government and from private persons» (4). Those who were shocked by these actions and who cried out in horror against anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism were met with this harsh response by Lenin: in the present situation, these forms of struggle are inevitable, and the task of the revolutionary party is not to shun them out of fear of being disorganised by them but on the contrary to give them the organisation that they fatally lack, and to try to take them «under its control» (5).

Likewise, in 1921, while the Italian proletariat led a difficult defensive struggle against fascism, without however neglecting the favourable occasions for counterattack, and while the Maximalists (6) signed a «peace agreement» with the Fascists, the Communist Party of Italy responded with the following, denouncing the hypocritical arguments of the Maximalists:

«Revolutionary socialism recognises that at a certain moment in history [...] the clash between social classes takes the form of civil war. This war, which is fought with all possible means, is manifested episodically at first in skirmishes by patrols which increase in number, expanding their activity and aggressive force. There are those who would want to dictate rules of chivalry in this war. The experience of wars and of past and recent revolutions shows to what point this attempt is infantile and far from the reality anguishly faced in action.

To distinguish in this war between collective violence and individual violence would be to split hairs and to quibble about the possibility of a struggle in which individual violence could be eliminated. And more often than not it is tantamount to a refusal to wage this war. Anyone who is openly opposed to the civil war denies the class struggle itself, for the class struggle, in the socialist view and given the causes which engender it, cannot but lead in the end to civil war. If one is opposed to this war, then one must clearly say this to the proletariat as the gentlemen of the socialist right have all too often done. But if one recognises the historical necessity of civil war, then it is necessary to accept it with all the excesses that come along with it, while at the same time attempting to take leadership of it by following a political discipline and anticipating its outcome» (7).

As concerns the «excesses» which are so vehemently denounced by opportunist propaganda, it is necessary to remember the words that Marx and Engels addressed to the workers on the barricades of the revolution, who where determined not to limit themselves to the objectives set by the bourgeoisie in their common struggle against the old feudal regime:

«Far from opposing so-called excesses-instances of popular revenge against hated individuals or public buildings that are associated only with hateful recollections-such instances must not only be tolerated but the leadership of them taken in hand» (8).

There will be those who will respond that the situation today is different than when Marx and Engels wrote these words. This is certainly true. In fact one of our criticisms of both classical and modern day terrorism is precisely that it is incapable of understanding at what moments individual terror is called for and, as a consequence, erects a metaphysical principle valid for any situation and divorced from all material basis. Nevertheless, the party cannot consider only the present since its task is precisely to build today the subjective conditions for the revolutionary struggle tomorrow. It thus has the duty to begin now to prepare its militants and the proletarian vanguard for the day (and whether this day is near or far away is of little importance) when the acts of «individuals or small groups», either spontaneous or organised by the party, will have a real role to play and when their execution must not be stifled by a repugnance for this type of action supposedly justified by «principles». The party has the duty to prepare the proletarian vanguard for the «ideal» solution, which is for the party to take these, actions under its control and utilise them according to its assessment of the actual situation and its general strategy. It also has the duty to prepare them for the possibility - which is to a certain extent inevitable - that these acts will occur outside of its control, as manifestations of healthy proletarian anger.

Just as it is not enough to oppose collective violence to individual violence, it is also insufficient to reject the theory of «exemplary acts» characteristic both of the old terrorism and, supposedly, of its modem variety. To simply reject it is to make the same error that is committed by the ideologists of the «propaganda of the deed»: that which is only a means, and sometimes an expedient, is transformed into an entity (one rejecting it in the absolute, the other advancing it in the absolute). It is certain that neither a revolutionary situation nor the overthrow of the enemy's machinery of domination can be brought about either by an isolated act of the «dynamitero» or by the effect which such a courageous act supposedly has with respect to «raising the consciousness of the masses» (or the «people», to use a language better suited to this subject).

Marxists, however, do not direct this perfectly correct critique against the act itself; they direct it against its idealisation, its theoretical justification. Precisely because they possess the theoretical tools which prevent them from falling into idealisations of this kind, Marxists must also recognise the value that these acts can have in particular phases of the class struggle. Even sporadic actions of this kind can be of value in intimidating the enemy and even more importantly can serve to strengthen the will of the proletarian fighters, to give them a sense of their own strength and the vulnerability of the enemy, and to show the exploited that the regime against which they revolt is certainly powerful but not all powerful, maybe difficult to destroy but not immortal. In certain aspects and within certain limits, the class struggle obeys the same laws as all other wars. It was not necessary to wait until our «civilised» epoch to discover the effect of intimidation on the attacker as well as on the attacked; and it was not insignificant that Marx and Engels labelled the famous «excesses» as «examples» and called on communists not to deplore them but to encourage them and if possible to lead them.

This point is dealt with in the Draft Program of Action of the Communist Party of Italy presented to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International at the end of 1922. The Draft Program was based on the Party's practical experience in the civil war and was completely in accord with the action it carried out in the course of the two preceding years. It explains:

«[Fascism] aims at demoralising and defeating the proletariat by means of the terrorist method, that is to say by giving the proletariat the impression that the fascist forces are invincible and that it is impossible to hold out against them. In order to fight against this process of demoralisation of the masses, it is necessary to make the proletariat realise that to oppose force by force, organisation by organisation, arming by arming, is not a vague slogan which will only be realised in the far distant future, but a practical and realisable activity which alone will make it possible to prepare for a re-emergence of armed actions by the proletariat. In this area of activity, the Party does not set up limits of principle except in the sense that any action which is not planned by the corresponding organs of the party must be rejected (and this includes consequently any individual initiative). This does not mean that we refrain from individual actions aimed at particular individuals in the enemy camp or from those carried out by isolated communist comrades upon the order of the party. It is the contrary, for an action can involve military groups or formations only when the great masses begin to enter into the struggle. In the normal course of class guerrilla warfare, the party must organise actions of individuals or small selected groups, and it must carefully prepare these actions in order to avoid unfavourable consequences. Actions of this type will be directed not only at the armed forces or the fascists but also, in general, at the property, institutions and persons of the bourgeois class and all the bourgeois parties. As a general rule it is necessary to avoid causing too much damage, direct or indirect, to the material interests of the workers. The objective of these actions should be to strike back in retaliation to each and every attack of the enemy against proletarian institutions. In this area, the Communist Party must act in the same way towards the bourgeois institutions as the fascists do towards the proletarian masses. A corollary of this tactic is that in the antifascist campaign it is important not to fall into the fascists' trap by overemphasising the atrocities and the ruthless character of their actions. While holding fascism responsible for all its actions, it is necessary to guard against taking a tearful attitude and to place the greatest possible emphasis instead on the acts of violence carried out by the forces under the direction of the party or by the proletariat in spontaneous response to the enemy's attack» (9).

Let us repeat once more that the criteria which guide the class party in its choice of methods of actions are not moralistic criteria. Neither does the party have an infallible recipe for defeating the enemy and securing victory. However in the offensive as in the desperate defensive and even in the most painful defeat, it must attempt to make the most effective use of the «psychological» factors in the social struggle. Although the role and importance of these factors in agitation around economic issues and in strikes is very different than in an episode of open or smouldering civil war, they nevertheless play a role in every situation and it is always necessary to take these factors into consideration, not in order to build them into a myth as does the idealists who erect terrorism as a system, but instead in order to better utilise them as tactical resources.

The year 1921 gave proof not only of how insufficient but how dangerous that orientation, is which propagates the false and petty criticisms of terrorism such as those we have mentioned previously. A wing of the Communist Party of Germany, in reaction against the idiotic theory of «the offensive at all costs» with its perspective of a final and «irreversible» crisis of capitalism, fell into the most defeatist of defensive positions-at all costs. As could be expected, it stigmatised as Blanquism, anarchism, and gangsterism (10) the acts of terror and the reprisals which nuclei of proletarians, who were being hunted down by the police, the army and the courts, engaged in if only to defend themselves and survive - and it would have been too bad for them if they had not done it.

At the Third Congress of the Communist International (1921), Lenin and Trotsky proclaimed that while it is idiotic to preach the permanent offensive, it is treason to refuse the offensive in general and «on principles»; and the International, while condemning the offensive erected as an absolute, saluted the «terrorist» actions of Max Herlz. A party which must lead the class which has the historic mission of attacking the enemy and destroying its central strongholds, evidently cannot renounce the direct and armed attack without committing suicide as a revolutionary party, although it understands that it cannot launch this attack at any given moment. The point that Lenin and Trotsky wanted to make, however, went further than this general recapitulation, and can be summed up in this way: it is an elementary rule of war-and no one knew it better than Trotsky - that one cannot defend oneself efficiently if all attack is renounced a priori. Even in a defensive battle, offensive actions cannot be refused on principle and the opportunity to launch them must not be decided according to an abstract principle but according to a practical evaluation of the situation. This point is further elaborated in one of our basic party texts, in total agreement with the position of the International:

«No communist can harbour prejudices towards the use of armed actions, retaliations and even terror or deny that these actions, which require discipline and organisation, must be directed by the communist party. Just as infantile is the conception that the use of violence and armed actions are reserved for the «Great Day» when the supreme struggle for the conquest of power will be launched. In the reality of the revolutionary development, bloody confrontations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are inevitable before the final struggle; they may originate not only from unsuccessful insurrectional attempts on the part of the proletariat, but also from inevitable, partial and transitory clashes between the forces of bourgeois defence and groups of proletarians who have been impelled to rise in arms, or between bands of bourgeois «white guards» and workers who have been attacked and provoked by them. It is not correct either to say that communist parties must disavow all such actions and reserve all their force for the final moment, because all struggles necessitate a preparation and a period of training and it is in these preliminary actions that the revolutionary capacity of the party to lead and organise the masses must begin to be forged and tested.
It would be a mistake, however, to deduce from all these preceding considerations that the action of the political class party is merely that of a general staff which could by its mere will, determine the movement of the armed forces and their utilisation. And it would be an imaginary tactical perspective to believe that the party, after having created a military organisation, could launch an attack at a given moment when it would judge its strength to be sufficient to defeat the forces of bourgeois defence.
The offensive action of the party is conceivable only when the reality of the economic and social situation throws the masses into a movement aimed at solving the problems directly related, on the widest scale, to their conditions in life; this movement creates an unrest which can only develop in a truly revolutionary direction on the condition that the party intervenes by clearly establishing its general aims, and rationally and efficiently organising its action, including the military technique. It is certain that the party's revolutionary preparation can begin to translate itself into planned actions even in the partial movements of the masses: thus retaliation against white terror - whose aims are to give the proletariat the feeling that it is definitively weaker than its adversaries and to make it abandon the revolutionary preparation - is an indispensable tactical means.
However it would be another voluntarist error - for which there cannot and must not be any room in the methods of the Marxist International - to believe that by utilising such military forces, even though they may be extremely well organised on a broad scale, it is possible to change the situations and to provoke the starting of the general revolutionary struggle in the midst of a stagnating situation
» (11).

This passage very clearly indicates the materialist considerations which must guide Marxists on this as well as all other questions in the class struggle. It shows that no Marxist critique of the ideology of terrorism can be made if the object of the critique is the terrorists' «code of actions» (which in certain situations is unattackable and must only be placed within the framework of a general revolutionary action) or their constantly reoccurring errors in the evaluation of the relations of forces. Instead the terrorist ideology must be attacked at its roots. If not, the critique will fall into the vulgar and defeatist pacifism which so rightly aroused Lenin's revolutionary furore.

When Fritz Adler assassinated the Austrian prime minister, Storgkh, October 21, 1916, Lenin's response was the exact opposite of any kind of pacifism. Taking the floor at the congress of the Swiss Socialist Party, he left open the answer to whether in this particular case it was a question of an

«application of terrorism as tactics (12), i.e., systematic organisation of political assassinations unconnected with the mass revolutionary struggle; or whether it was a single act in the transition from the opportunist, non-socialist defence of the fatherland tactics of the official Austrian Social-Democrats to the tactics of revolutionary mass struggle».

But regardless of which it may represent, he went on to say:

«At all events, we are convinced that the experience of revolution and counterrevolution in Russia has proved the correctness of our Party's more than twenty-year struggle against terrorism as tactics. We must not forget, however, that this struggle was closely connected with a ruthless struggle against opportunism, which was inclined to repudiate the use of all violence by the oppressed classes against their oppressors. We have always stood for the use of violence in the mass struggle and in connection with it. Secondly, we linked the struggle against terrorism with many years of propaganda, started long before December 1905, for an armed uprising. We have regarded the armed uprising not only as the best means by which the proletariat can retaliate to the government's policy, but also as the inevitable result of the development of the class struggle for socialism and democracy. Thirdly, we have not confined ourselves to accepting violence in principle and to propaganda for armed uprising. For example, four years before the revolution we supported the use of violence by the masses against their oppressors, particularly in street demonstrations. We sought to bring to the whole country the lesson taught by every such demonstration. We began to devote more and more attention to organising sustained and systematic mass resistance against the police and the army, to winning over, through this resistance, as large as possible a part of the army to the side of the proletariat in its struggle against the government, to inducing the peasantry and the army to take a conscious part in this struggle. These are the tactics we have applied in the struggle against terrorism, and it is our firm conviction that they have proved successful» (13).

This short recapitulation of the process of formation of the Bolshevik Party contains the formulation of several fundamental principles. These are linked to the points we have already covered and take us in the direction of those which still remain to be developed. So let us stop here for a moment and examine the principles which Lenin has laid out.

First of all, the critique of terrorism (which is better labelled «individualist» rather than «individual» terrorism) and, in certain circumstances, the open struggle against it, are legitimate and even obligatory only on the condition that they are always linked to the critique of opportunism and the unrelenting struggle against it. It is significant that Lenin explained here that a distinguishing characteristic of opportunism is the rejection of any violence on the part of the oppressed class against the oppressors. Those who adopt such a position have no right to criticise terrorism; the same applies to those who mouth Lenin's critique of terrorism but who do not themselves attack opportunism.

Secondly, the two «deviations» which the movement historically had to fight in order to establish a class orientation and a solid class organisation - the opportunist deviation and the «terrorist» deviation - cannot be put on the same level. Likewise, as Lenin demonstrated in 1920, «left-wing communism», the «infantile disorder», also cannot be placed on the same level as that form of senile degeneration, which is pacifist, legalist and reformist opportunism. In the case of the latter, there is nothing to salvage and all must be rejected. In the case of the former we can salvage at least-and this is not at all insignificant-the call for violence against the oppressors. Of course, this can be salvaged only by inserting it in the general and many faceted movement of the proletariat, and even of the popular masses, adapting it to the development and necessities of the movement and endeavouring to place it under the «supervision» and even the conscious initiative of the class party. It is only in this, way that we can dispel the confused ideas in which its theoreticians encase it and which, as they express the mentality of the petty-bourgeois, inevitably give it an individualist and impulsive character.

Third, communists do not confine themselves to the demand in principle of violence «of the oppressed against the oppressors» as a general thesis which must be obeyed only in theory. They must extend this demand, in different degrees and in different forms, to the whole range of manifestations of the class struggle, from the most elementary to the most developed (14) which ends in the armed insurrection and the seizure and exercise of power. They must ideologically prepare the proletarians for the necessity of using violence in order to later be in a position to prepare them-and this is what is essential - for using it physically. This is why, as Lenin said, communists must not hesitate to recognise as something deserving «our fullest sympathy» even an isolated, individualist act of anarchism, such as that of Fritz Adler if such an act, as an instinctive reaction of a militant or group of militants, expresses the aim of the proletarian political organisation of beginning to move forwards out of the swamp of opportunism.

Fourth, the Russian experience, which is valuable as an actual historical example, shows exactly under what conditions the «struggle against terrorism» can succeed and push this phenomenon to the sidelines. For this it is necessary that the organised workers' movement grows and strengthens, that its vanguard elements align themselves on the side of the struggle against the ruling class and its state, and that the class party gains an influence among the working class which enables it to orient the class and take it forward, and to agitate in all its sectors for the general aims of communism, for its principles, its program and its tactics. Then, individual terrorism as a specific phenomenon will tend to pass to the sidelines, but only in the measure where the class movement and the party have taken from it the demand for violence and transformed it; only in the measure where they make it one of the tactical means necessitated in different degrees and forms by the various situations and no longer the single method with supposed miraculous qualities. In other words, it is only by going beyond the narrow limits of individualist terrorism that it is possible to escape the dead end to which it leads.

We must not forget that this type of terrorism, in fact, historically has appeared in one of two historical situations. First, we see it in periods of deep internal social crisis which disrupt and unsettle more or less large layers of the ruling class and its substrata, above all the intellectuals. These strata, incapable of orienting themselves in the existing regime and unable to make a place for themselves within it, are pushed onto the political and social scene and, to the extent that the organised working class movement, the only one which is revolutionary, is lacking, on the ebb, or too weak, they are pushed into the position where they play an ephemeral vanguard role. In the absence of the polarising force of the modern proletariat, these layers are abandoned to their immediate spontaneism and take the direction corresponding to the social factors which motivate them and to their ideology, which is idealist, volontarist, and moralistic.

This was the case with the essentially populist and Blanquist terrorism which appeared during the 1870's in Russia, as well as the basically anarchist varieties which appeared in France and Spain at the end of the 19th Century, after the bloody defeat of the Paris Commune and the Spanish republican movements (1873-74).

This type of terrorism has also appeared-for instance in the years immediately preceding and following the 1905 Revolution in Russia and also, in part, today-as a desperate political and moralistic reaction against the predominance of the opportunist currents within the working class movement. As Lenin wrote in 1920 «anarchism [and Lenin included in this term all the varieties not only of anarchist but also populist and Blanquist terrorism] was not infrequently a kind of penalty for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement. The two monstrosities complemented each other» (15). The decline of the «old» terrorism at the beginning of the 1890's coincided with the extension and radicalisation of strikes and the birth of the first Marxist groups and circles. The «new» terrorism which has emerged in the years preceding the 1905 Revolution has coincided with the rise of both the working class movement, which had an influence on the peasantry, and the working class party. History has its inexorable laws, even if this escapes the theoreticians of individualist terrorism.

A long struggle on two fronts
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It is very important to see how the critique of individualist terrorism went hand in hand with the unrelenting struggle against the opportunist tendencies within the Russian party, which furnished terrorism with an objective justification. In 1898-1901, a clean break with the terrorist and conspiratorial anarchist and Blanquist tradition was one of the indispensable conditions for the birth of the class party. But as the whole complexity of tasks of revolutionary Marxists became clear with respect to the general perspective and with respect to tactics and organisation, the question of revolutionary terror and its use emerged from the shadows of the past to take its proper place in the perspective of a movement that encompasses all of society and in which the working class takes on the role of protagonist and guide.

At first the rupture
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In a pamphlet written by Lenin in 1898-the very pamphlet where he elaborated the function of the proletariat in the double revolution with such clarity that no doubt could be left about the significance of the participation of the proletariat in the democratic revolution-we read:

«Blanquist, conspiratorial traditions are fearfully strong among the former [the Narodniki], so much so that they cannot conceive of political struggle except in the form of political conspiracy. The Social-Democrats, however, are not guilty of such a narrow outlook; they do not believe in conspiracies; they think that the period of conspiracies has long passed away, that to reduce political struggle to conspiracy means, on the one hand, immensely restricting its scope, and, on the other hand, choosing the most unsuitable methods of struggle».

The axis of the critique is thus the «narrowness» of the horizon of the «conspirators on principle» and not its «illegitimacy»; the «inadequacy» of the means they adopt and not their «inconsistency» in the absolute. It is necessary to go beyond the dead end of their actions and their theoretical postulates so that the many-sided activity of Russian social-democrats could develop, an activity which

«consists in spreading by propaganda the teachings of scientific socialism, in spreading among the workers a proper understanding of the various classes in Russian society, of their interrelations, of the struggle between the classes, of the role of the working class in the struggle, of its attitude towards the declining and the developing classes, towards the past and future of capitalism, and understanding of the historical task of international social-democracy and of the Russian working class. Inseparably connected with propaganda is agitation among the workers [...]. Agitation among the workers means that the Social-Democrats must take part in all the spontaneous manifestations of the working class struggle, in all the conflicts between the workers and the capitalists over the working day, wages, working conditions, etc., etc.» (16).

In 1900, having already sketched the main line which the tremendous theoretical armament of the Russian party would follow in the years to come, Lenin tackled, in the pamphlet Urgent Tasks of Our Movement, the delicate problems of a «period of vacillation and doubt bordering on self-negation» which had swept through Russian Social Democracy, attributing it to a faulty orientation in the party's practical day to day activity. These vacillations and doubts had one of two effects: either «the working class movement is being sundered from socialism» through the practice of aiding the workers to wage the economic struggle without explaining to them «the socialist aim and the political tasks of the movement as a whole»; or «socialism is being sundered from the labour movement» by pretending that since the workers supposedly confine themselves to the economic struggle, the struggle against the government must be waged «entirely by the intelligentsia». The economist error produces as a counteraction the error which reduces politics to a conspiratorial activity, and vice versa. To follow the revolutionary path we must transcend these two deviations and abolish the one-sided character of activities through organising them according to a general tactical plan where each has its own role to play. Lenin writes:

«Our principal and fundamental task is to facilitate the political development and organisation of the working class. Those who push this task into the background, who refuse to subordinate to it all the special tasks and particular methods of struggle, are following a false path and causing serious harm to the movement. And it is being pushed into the background, firstly, by those who call upon revolutionaries to employ only the forces of isolated conspiratorial circles cut off from the working class movement in the struggle against the government. It is being pushed into the background, secondly, by those who restrict the content and scope of political propaganda, agitation and organisation; who think it fit and proper to treat the workers to «politics» only at exceptional moments in their lives, only on festive occasions [...].
Social-Democracy does not tie its hands, it does not restrict its activities to one preconceived plan or method of political struggle; it recognises all methods of struggle, provided they correspond to the forces at the disposal of the Party and facilitate the achievement of the best results possible under the given conditions. If we have a strongly organised Party, a single strike may turn into a political demonstration, into a political victory over the government. If we have a strongly organised Party, a revolt in a single locality may grow into a victorious revolution
» (17).

In 1901, with the programmatic foundations of the party and the general lines of its tactics (the «tactics-as-process» of What Is to Be Done?) having been laid out, the problem of organisational tasks had to be confronted with urgency. From this point of view, what role does terrorism play? Once again Lenin does not approach the problem abstractly but considers it in relationship to the perspectives, the tasks and the general objectives of the movement and in relationship to the degree of development of the movement's organ of leadership, the party. It is from this point of view that he sees the problem in Where to Begin? Can a given tactical means, terrorism for example, contribute to the reinforcement of the movement or does it carry risks of weakening it or even of destroying it? Lenin writes:

«In principle we have never rejected, and cannot reject, terror. Terror is one of the forms of military action that may be perfectly suitable and even essential at a definite juncture in the battle, given a definite state of the troops and the existence of definite conditions. But the important point is that terror, at the present time, is by no means suggested as an operation for the army in the field, an operation closely connected with and integrated into the entire system of struggle, but as an independent form of occasional attack unrelated to any army. Without a central body and with the weakness of local revolutionary organisations, this, in fact, is all that terror can be. We, therefore, declare emphatically that under the present conditions such a means of struggle is inopportune and unsuitable; that it diverts the most active fighters from their real task, the task which is most important from the standpoint of the interests of the movement as a whole; and that it disorganises the forces, not of the government, but of the revolution [...]. Far be it from us to deny the significance of heroic individual blows, but it is our duty to sound a vigorous warning against becoming infatuated with terror, against taking it to be the chief and basic means of struggle as so many people strongly incline to do at present. [...]
In other words, the immediate task of our Party is not to summon all available forces for the attack right now, but to call for the formation of a revolutionary organisation capable of uniting all forces and guiding the movement in actual practice and not in name alone, that is, an organisation ready at any time to support every protest and every outbreak and use it to build up and consolidate the fighting forces suitable for the decisive struggle
» (18).

Next, surpassing the narrow limits of individualist terrorism
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The worker's movement can only break the narrow limits in which it is confined by forces whose viewpoint is tied to immediate circumstances and their variations, when it surpasses its own spontaneous immediatism. The two poles of this spontaneity, which both lead to the subjection of the movement to bourgeois politics, are precisely economism and terrorism. The worker's movement can overcome and surpass this spontaneity only by assimilating the revolutionary Marxist program, defended with a dogmatic firmness and a constant inflexibility, and imported into the ranks of the movement by the tenacious work of the party. This is what Lenin wrote in What Is to Be Done?:

«In the last footnote, we cited the opinion of an Economist and of a non-Social Democratic terrorist, who showed themselves to be accidentally in agreement. Speaking generally, however, there is not an accidental, but a necessary, inherent connection between the two [...]. The Economists and the present day terrorists have one common root, namely, subservience to spontaneity [...]. At first sight, our assertion may appear paradoxical, so great is the difference between those who stress the «drab everyday struggle» and those who call for the most self-sacrificing struggle of individuals. But this is no paradox. The Economists and the terrorists merely bow to different poles of spontaneity; the Economists bow to the spontaneity of the «labour movement pure and simple», while the terrorists bow to the passionate indignation of intellectuals, who lack the ability or opportunity to connect the revolutionary struggle and the working class movement into an integral whole [...].
Political activity has its logic, quite apart from the consciousness of those who, with the best intentions, call either for terror or for lending the economic struggle itself a political character. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and, in this case, good intentions cannot save one from being drawn «along the line of least resistance».
[...] the terrorists and the Economists underestimate the revolutionary activity of the masses... one group goes out in search of artificial «excitants», the other talks about «concrete demands». But both fail to devote sufficient attention to the development of their own activity in political agitation and in the organisation of political exposures
» (19).

In the following chapters («What Kind of Organisation Do We Require» and «A «Conspiratorial» Organisation and «Democracy»») Lenin shows in what context the individual terrorist action ceases to be that which it is spontaneously, i.e. a manifestation of «revolutionary adventurism». This is possible only in the context of the complex and organised action of the party; a party which knows the whole scope of its own tasks and is ready to use any workable means in its propaganda and agitation which are directed to all layers of society and concern all relations among classes and all relations between these classes and the state; a party which works to «bring closer and merge into a single whole the elemental destructive force of the masses and the conscious destructive force of the organisation of revolutionaries». Lenin writes:

«[...] a strong revolutionary organisation is absolutely necessary precisely for the purpose of giving stability to the movement and of safeguarding it against the possibility of making thoughtless attacks. Precisely at the present time, when no such organisation yet exists, and when the revolutionary movement is rapidly and spontaneously growing, we already observe two opposite extremes (which, as is to be expected, «meet»). These are: the utterly unsound economism and the preaching of moderation, and the equally unsound «excitative terror» [...] there exists Social-Democrats who give way to both these extremes. This is not surprising, for, apart from other reasons, the «economic struggle against the employers and the government» can never satisfy revolutionaries, and opposite extremes will therefore always appear here and there. Only a centralised, militant organisation that consistently carries out a Social-Democratic policy, that satisfies, so to speak, all revolutionary instincts and strivings, can safeguard the movement against making thoughtless attacks and prepare attacks that hold out the promise of success» (20).

To be very clear and to prevent anyone from using his words to procrastinate about taking up the struggle, Lenin added these explicit words in September 1902:

«The Social-Democrats will always warn against adventurism and ruthlessly expose illusions which inevitably end in complete disappointment. We must bear in mind that a revolutionary party is worthy of its name only when it guides in deed the movement of a revolutionary class. We must bear in mind that any popular movement assumes an infinite variety of forms, is constantly developing new forms and discarding the old, and effecting modifications or new combinations of old and new forms. It is our duty to participate actively in this process of working out means and methods of struggle. [...] Without in the least denying violence and terrorism in principle, we demanded work for the preparation of such forms of violence as were calculated to bring about the direct participation of the masses and which guaranteed that participation. We do not close our eyes to the difficulties of this task, but will work at it steadfastly and persistently, undeterred by the objections that this is a matter of the «vague and distant future.» Yes, gentlemen, we stand for future and not only past forms of the movement. We give preference to long and arduous work on what promises a future rather than to an «easy» repetition of what has been condemned by the past» (21).

A long and arduous work on what promises a future... Three years later, on September 26, 1905, Lenin devoted a short enthusiastic article «From the Defensive to the Offensive» to the news of what today would be called a «commando» action in the seacoast town of Riga. Seventy people attacked the central prison, killing and wounding some guards; they freed two political prisoners and succeeded in retreating without sustaining heavy losses. Lenin writes:

«It is by engaging in such operations that the pioneers of armed struggle become fused with the masses not merely in world but in deed, assume leadership of the combat squads and contingents of the proletariat, train in the crucible of civil war dozens of popular leaders who, tomorrow, on the day of the workers' uprising, will be able to help with their experience and their heroic courage thousands and tens of thousands of workers. [...]
Our trophies are two revolutionary leaders rescued from prison. This is indeed a brilliant victory!! It is a real victory, scored in a battle against an enemy armed to the teeth. It is no longer a plot against some detested individual, no act of vengeance or desperation, no mere «intimidation» - no, it was a well thought-out and prepared commencement of operations by a contingent of the revolutionary army, planned with due regard for the correlations of forces. [...] Fortunately, the time has passed when revolution was «made» by individual revolutionary terrorists, because the people were not revolutionary. The bomb has ceased to be the weapon of the solitary «bomb thrower», and is becoming an essential weapon of the people
» (22).

In order to reach this point and to reproduce this episode on a large scale, to pass from individual terrorism to mass terrorism which absorbs and utilises the former, required that a higher stage be reached than that attained by the movement which swept along the great masses in 1905. It required a party which had already tackled the problems of armed insurrection and guerrilla warfare (the latter being precisely the struggle of individuals or groups utilising revolutionary terror). It required that the party should have already resolved these problems and based the preparation for the future on these conclusions. Although this future was maybe years away, although it was perhaps to be preceded by discouragements and defeats, the party was able to foresee and prepare for it thanks to its Marxist method-and after the dress rehearsal of 1905 it was finally realised in October 1917.

(To Be Continued)

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  1. See in particular, in English, «Terrorism and Communism: On the Events in Germany», in issue no. 4 of this review. In French see our pamphlet Violence, terrorisme et lutte de classe, which is a collection of articles from our press and leaflets distributed by the party; also see the articles «L'idéologie des Brigades Rouges» and «Critique du romantisme terroriste» in nos. 264 and 265 of Le Prolétaire, our French language newspaper. [back]
  2. Guerrilla Warfare (1906), Collected Works, Vol. 11, pp. 219-220. The long quote we use a little further on is found on pp. 213-214. [back]
  3. It is necessary to understand the exact sense of this: neither on plot or on a party, insofar as revolutionary situations are not created at will. The author of these words (Lenin, «Marxism and Insurrection», 26/27-9-1917, Collected Works, Vol. 26, p. 22) is also the one who relentlessly explained to the hesitant comrades that once these objective conditions are realised, the intervention of the party is indispensable in order to orientate the movement and enable it to be organised in a cohesive way. He was also the one who showed the necessity for a special clandestine, conspiratorial, military organ of the party charged with the practical tasks of applying this «art of insurrection». Consequently, it is not enough to say that Marxists reject Blanquism. They reject the conspiratorial plot elevated to an absolute and supra-historic schema but they themselves must use conspiratorial methods. We will come to this point later on when we follow the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, and the history of the Bolshevik Party on the eve of Red October. [back]
  4. Not to mention taking hostages, the execution of spies or provocateurs, or actions to free political prisoners, etc. We will return to this point later. [back]
  5. Guerrilla Warfare, op. cit., p. 224. This question is dealt with great detail in «The Objectives of the Detachments of the Revolutionary Army» (1905), Collected Works, vol. 5. [back]
  6. A wing of the Italian Socialist Party led by Serrati. [back]
  7. «While the «Peacemaking Expedition» Is Being Prepared», an article published in Il Comunista, 31-7-1921. [back]
  8. Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League, 1850. [back]
  9. This Draft Program of Action was published in its entirety in no. 67 of Programme Communiste, our French language theoretical review. The passage quoted above can be found on p. 57. [back]
  10. As usual, all this clamouring (especially on the part of Paul Levi) was accompanied by warnings against the danger of the party compromising with the sub proletariat (the lumpen proletariat) and badly used quotes from Marx and Engels. In 1906, Lenin had already responded to such protestations:
    «It is said that guerrilla warfare brings the conscious proletarians into close association with degraded, drunken riffraff. That is true. But it only means that the Party of the proletariat can never regard guerrilla warfare as the only, or even as the chief, method of struggle; it means that this method must be subordinated to other methods, that it must be commensurate with the chief methods of warfare, and must be enabled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism. And without this latter condition, all, positively all, methods of struggle in bourgeois society bring the proletariat into close association with the various non-proletarian strata above and below it and, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become frayed, corrupted, and prostituted» (Guerrilla Warfare, op. cit., p. 224).
  11. «Party and Class Action», published in Rassegna Comunista, 31-5-1921. Translated in our booklet, Party and Class. [back]
  12. It can be objected that in the individualist type of terrorism, we are dealing with a strategy rather than a tactic. However, it is important not to forget that Lenin wrote these words during a period of all-out imperialist war and in the hypothesis not only of a revolutionary situation but of a revolutionary strategy based on the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war. It is from this viewpoint that the tactical tasks of the proletarian and communist vanguard had to be correctly defined. As for the individual or collective terror, they had to be seen from the standpoint of linking them with the actions of the mass of proletarians and exploited in general and not from the standpoint of «exemplary acts». [back]
  13. «Speech at the Congress of the Swiss Social-Democratic Party», Zurich, Nov. 4, 1916, Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 123-124. [back]
  14. In Lenin's brief speech from which we have quoted above, he spoke of «street demonstrations», which is something that is already on a higher level than the immediate struggles of the working class. But we already have seen and we will see again further on that he is envisioning here also more modest and sporadic actions, beginning with strike pickets which are also an elementary defensive form of violence.
    In «Tasks of the Left Zimmerwaldists in the Swiss Social-Democratic Party», written some months later, Lenin illustrated the work of propaganda and agitation which needed to be developed in all areas in order to lead the masses to a position of revolutionary defeatism. He emphasised that «Social-Democratic groups must be formed in all military units» of the army; and that «the historical inevitability and legitimacy, from the standpoint of socialism, of using arms in the only legitimate war, namely the proletarian war against the bourgeoisie to liberate humanity from wage-slavery, must be explained». When he spoke of making «propaganda against isolated terrorist actions» it was in order to «link up the struggle of the revolutionary sector of the army with the broad movement of the proletariat and of the exploited population generally». Finally, he called for more intensive propaganda «urging soldiers to refuse to obey when troops are used against strikers» and explaining that «passive disobedience alone is not enough». (Collected Works, Vol. fl, p. 144).
  15. ««Left-Wing» Communism - An Infantile Disorder», Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 32. [back]
  16. Lenin, «Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats», Collected Works, Vol. 2, pp. 340 and 329. The term «social-democrat» of course was at the time synonymous with «socialist» or «communist». [back]
  17. Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 367 and 369-371 (underlined by us). [back]
  18. Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 19-20. [back]
  19. Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 417-421. [back]
  20. Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 512 and 476-477 (last sentence underlined by us). [back]
  21. «Revolutionary Adventurism», Collected Works, Vol. 6, pp. 194-195 (middle section underlined by us). [back]
  22. Collected Works, Vol. 9, pp. 283-284 (the last third underlined by us). [back]

part 2 >

Source: «communist program», No.5, june 1979

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