Editorial: The Bankruptcy of “Communist” Theory
Immediately after the Bolshevik seizure of power there was some excuse for the misconceptions of the significance and causes of that event, which were prevalent here in working-class circles. Reliable information on Russian affairs had been lacking throughout the war years, and to those who were not familiar through historical study with the slow growth of social forces, no rumoured happening behind the wall of censorship was too fantastic to be believed. Those people outside Russia who erred in crediting the Bolsheviks with achievements which were hardly dreamed of by Lenin and other responsible Communists, were quite unable to examine critically the proposals which were put out by the Third International for the conduct of the workers’ struggle elsewhere. They erred again and more seriously in assuming that methods which may have been useful and probably inevitable in Czarist Russia could be applied here where almost every condition is different. Underlying Communist doctrines lay the assumption that constitutional action is futile for the Socialist’s main aim, that the democratic idea is a myth and a danger, and that capitalism can be overthrown not by the deliberate act of an organised working class, but only by a minority, the Communist Party. To the superficial observer the condition of Europe at the end of the war and at the beginning of the peace made these assumptions less absurd than they appear now. There were sections of the ruling class which had lost their grip on the situation in face of a war which they began and could not control, and in face of peace problems which threatened to be insoluble and fatal. The moment passed and even during capitalism’s difficulty, the workers, in spite of equally superficial views to the contrary, were never less ready to act as a class against their exploiters. All that can be said for the Communists is that many of them did believe their desperate creed. They were prepared to pit their puny strength against the might of the capitalist state, to have their own and other people’s heads broken in trying conclusions with the armed forces, to go to jail for defiance of capitalist laws and in general to face the consequences of their own foolhardy actions. Not so our present-day Communists. The violent doctrines of 1920 will no longer stir even the most emotional and youthful would-be rebel. They are too obviously impracticable to stand the test of discussion in the light of the present situation. But while they dare not go on preaching civil war they are not prepared to admit their error. Instead, they now ask us to believe that they are the innocent victinr of wicked misrepresentation, and that they never believed these doctrines at all. Accordingly we give below a selection from the host of declarations they now want be forgotten, prefaced by their recent repudution of their original policies.
“The Communist Party has repeatedly pointed out that unless it is able to win over to its standard a decisive majority of the working class it cannot realise the social transformation. The Communist Party believes that without the activity of a majority of the workers both in the struggle to set up a real Workers’ Government, and in the subsequent Socialist reconstruction, emancipation is impossible.” (Editor, Workers’ Weekly, November 7th, 1924.)
Lenin writing on Bourgeois Parliamentarism versus Proletarian Revolution (Workers’ Dreadnought, August 28th, 1920) used the following words :—
“The accusations of siding with the Bourgeoisie can indeed be levelled at all … who, while proclaiming adhesion to the dictatorship of the proletariat in words, in deeds propagate the belief in the necessity of gaining under the capitalist régime the formal consent of the majority of the population (that is a majority of the votes in a bourgeois parliament) before political power can be transferred to the proletariat . . . Let the revolutionary proletariat first overthrow the bourgeoisie, throw off the yoke of capitalism . . . and then it will be in a position to gain the support of the non-proletarian working masses.”
Lenin here uses “proletarian” to mean only the class-conscious minority, not the whole of the working class, as is shown by his following remark that “economically and politically it (the proletariat) represents the true interest of the vast majority of the workers.”
Eden and Cedar Paul, two members of the C.P.G.B., in their pamphlet “Communism” (Labour Publishing Co., 1920, p 12), wrote— “the Bolsheviks believed in the concentration of revolutionary energy in the hands of a comparatively small group prepared to seize power and declare the dictarorship of the proletariat. . . The dictatorship will not be exercised here, any more than it has been exercised in Russia, by the masses. It will be exercised by an oligarchy by a revolutionary élite.”
Lenin, speaking at a Peasants’ Congress (“Ten Days that Shook the World,” p. 303), is reported by John Reed as saying : “If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years.”
Karl Radek (“The Development of Socialism from Science to Practice”) describes “the notion that the proletariat should undertake no revolution until it is satisfied it has the majority of the people at its back,” as “nonsense.”
Bela Kun (“Liberator,” March, 1920), declared in an interview that “only a small part of the Hungarian workers were Bolshevik . . . But the most effective means of revolutionising the masses is revolution.”
Clara Zetkin, speaking for the Third Interrnational at the Berlin meeting of the three Internationals in April, 1922, declared that “The new political organism cannot at first be broad-based upon the people’s will . . . The revolutionary élite wrests the powers of the State from the grip of the capitalist class, and establishes the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Official Report, p. 15, Labour Publishing Co. Ltd)
The Thesis of the Third International on “Parliamentarism, etc.,” adopted at the Moscow Congress, 1920 (C.P.G.B., p. 4), “repudiates the possibility of winning over parliament.” “The Statutes and Conditions of Affiliation” (C.P.G.B., page 4) declares that “the aim of the Communist International is to organise an armed struggle for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie …”
The “Workers’ Republic” (Communist Party of Ireland, April 7th, 1923) states that “the advanced workers, organised in a Communist Party . . . will put the capitalist class out of existence by handing back to the workers that which has been filched from them.”
So much for the Communists’ repudiation of minority action and the armed revolt against the capitalist class. They have changed their watchwords because the old ones were growing ever more unpopular and absurd, but they have failed to see where they have drifted.
In 1920 they were sharply differentiated from other so-called working class parties, but this distinguishing feature removed, they fall back where they truly belong, into the ranks of the reformists. With their long and continually changing list of “Immediate demands,” ranging from capitalist measures like nationalisation to the dissolution of the British Empire, both of them a recognised part of the stock-in-trade of the Labour quack in the ‘eighties, they will have difficulty in showing any reason for their separation from the I.L.P. and the Labour Party. They have demonstrated that Communist theory is barren of hope for the working class.
( Socialist Standard, December 1924)