Critical assessments

Karl Kautsky

The Social Revolution

Volume II: On the day after the Social Revolution [1902], trans. A.M. and May Wood Simmons. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co., 1903.


I must first of all clear away a suspicion which will be roused in many people by the title of this work. On the Day after the Revolution! Does not that mean that we “orthodox” Marxists are only disguised Blanquists who expect by a coup d’etat to make ourselves dictators, and is not it a return to Utopianism when I attempt to describe a movement of which we can know nothing as to the circumstances under which it will take place?

I hasten then to remark that I consider the revolution an historical process that may easily draw itself out into a decade of hard battles. On the other side I am thoroughly convinced that it is not our task to invent recipes for the kitchens of the future, and when more than ten years ago the German Social democracy proposed to include in its program demands for such measures as would accelerate the transformation from a capitalist to a socialist manner of production, I opposed this because I maintained that the party could not lay out a definite road for conditions of which we can have only a dim presentiment and which may easily surprise us with much that is wholly unexpected. […]

Republic and social democracy’ [1905]

trans. Ben Lewis.

[…] In 1848 it was possible to distinguish between three main tendencies in the French socialist movement, denoted by the names of Blanqui, Proudhon and Louis Blanc.


The most elemental [urwüchsig] of them was the Blanquist tendency, which directly drew on Babeufism. In turn, Babeufism was nothing more than the continuation of Jacobinism translated from a petty bourgeois outlook to a proletarian one. Just as the Jacobins conquered Paris through a series of popular uprisings, dominated the convention (parliament) and held the whole of France at bay through their tight organisation and the tremendous power of the Paris Commune, the Blanquists wanted to bring Paris under the sway of the proletariat through a series of proletarian uprisings, to dominate France via Paris and to gradually impose a socialist mode of production on the country. In these uprisings, the Parisian proletariat was to be led by a most centralised organisation modelled on the Jacobin club. After achieving victory, this organisation was to direct the proletariat.

Indeed, if such a thing was possible in 1793, why should it not be possible in 1848, now that the proletariat had become so much stronger?

Like all politicians who sought to resume 1793 in 1848, the Blanquists too failed to recognise how the situation had changed since 1793. In many respects these changes were even more unfavourable to the proletarian Jacobins of 1848 than they were to the petty bourgeoisie.

As we have already mentioned, for all their anti-capitalism, the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie of 1793 had actually remained grounded in commodity production and private ownership of the means of production – at the time, the basis of the whole economic system. Capitalism was still in its infancy. It had become a social necessity, but the mass of the population still lived from petty production. The anti-capitalist tendencies of the Jacobins corresponded to their personal needs, even if they ran contrary to social needs – something which the individual was not directly conscious of.

In 1848 capitalism was perhaps no longer a universal social need. It could have perhaps already been replaced by social production in several regions and in several branches of production. But for the greater part of France’s population, and even for a large part of those living in Paris, commodity production and private ownership of the means of production remained a personal need. Thus the proletarian Jacobins of 1848 stood in far greater opposition to the needs of the mass of the population than the petty bourgeois Jacobins of 1793 did. In order to assert their dictatorship, they would have had needed much greater instruments of power at their disposal than their predecessors.

However, the exact opposite was the case. Since 1793 power relations in France had shifted tremendously to Paris’s disadvantage. One of the conditions of Jacobin rule was that in 1789 all the ruling class’s means of rule – church, bureaucracy and army – had been destroyed. The proletariat, as well as the petty bourgeoisie, will never be able to rule the state through these institutions. This is not only because the officer corps, the top of the bureaucracy and the church have always been recruited from the upper classes and are joined to them by the most intimate links. It is in their very nature that these institutions of power are striving to raise themselves above the mass of the people in order to rule them, instead of serving them, which means they will almost always be anti-democratic and aristocratic. The Jacobins sensed this so well that when the war forced on them the need to create an officer corps again, they placed every senior officer under the supervision of civil commissioners, because from the outset all of them were suspected of having aristocratic inclinations.

The conquest of state power by the proletariat therefore does not simply mean the conquest of the government ministries, which then, without further ado, administers the previous means of rule – an established state church, the bureaucracy and the officer corps – in a socialist manner. Rather, it means the dissolution of these institutions. As long as the proletariat is not strong enough to abolish these institutions of power, then taking over individual government departments and entire governments will be to no avail. A socialist ministry can at best exist temporarily. It will be worn down in the futile struggle against these institutions of power, without being able to create anything permanent.

In 1792 the Jacobins were in the favourable position of finding all these institutions dissolved. Using its enormous instruments of power and the Jacobin club, which was so superbly disciplined and organised throughout the country, Paris was able to fully deploy its superiority.

After Thermidor 9, and especially under the empire, however, the bourgeoisie and the empire had reconstructed and infinitely perfected the means of rule described above.

It is true, these institutions were strictly centralised and directed from Paris. As long as they remained in the possession of the Parisian government, France was governed from Paris. But as soon as Paris fell into the hands of a democratic regime these means of rule had to immediately turn on this regime and thus on Paris itself. These institutions were also able to find a necessary central point outside Paris, as shown by the experience of 1871. Those centralised institutions then became the power which led the whole of France against Paris and which crushed it.

It is completely mistaken to presume – following the Jacobin tradition – that the centralisation of administration would allow a revolutionary Paris to rule France more easily than with an extensive self-government of the municipalities. Revolutionary Paris was dominant precisely when self-government of the municipalities was most highly developed. The centralism of the Jacobins controlled the federalism of the localities. The Girondists’ attempt to mobilise the provinces against Paris at that time failed miserably. It was precisely centralised France which successfully carried out the Girondist plan in 1848 and 1871.

This clearly points to the tasks of French socialism: the conquest of the provinces is as important as that of Paris. The dissolution and weakening of the centralised means of rule is to be promoted as much as possible – particularly through the expansion of local self-government, naturally on the basis of universal and equal suffrage. Many French socialists, of course, appear to be of a different opinion even today. They believe, for example, that the threat to the republic posed by the army’s aristocratic tendencies can best be combated by increasing the police powers of the state, rather than by introducing the militia system.

Had Jacobin Blanquism conquered Paris, it would have encountered far greater difficulties in the face of these tremendously centralised institutions of power than its predecessors of 1793 did – despite the fact that their forces were significantly smaller. It was certain to fail eventually, just as its predecessors had. Nonetheless, Blanquism would actually have been able to temporarily establish a socialist regime, which would not have been in vain. This is because no great revolutionary movement fails without leaving tremendous traces behind. These traces cannot be erased again – the failed movements provide powerful impulses, which continue to have an effect for decades, centuries even. The revolution of 1848, then, would have achieved more for the cause of the proletariat than merely sharpening proletarian class-consciousness and deepening class antagonisms through the June battle.

But Blanquism could not deploy its full strength in 1848. When the revolution broke out, its organisations were weakened by the unsuccessful putsches of the previous decade. Its best leaders were in prison – above all Blanqui himself. And alongside Blanquism other tendencies had emerged, which captivated a large part of the proletariat.


One of these was the Proudhonist tendency. If Blanqui operated above all as a fighter, an organiser, then Proudhon was above all a theoretician – from time to time a dreamer too. He recognised the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as much as Blanqui did. But he occupied his mind in researching its economic laws far more than the latter.

The experiences of 1793, however, had quite a different effect on him than on Blanqui. Blanqui wanted to continue Jacobin policy in the interests of the proletariat, and one-sidedly pushed the need to conquer state power to the fore. Proudhon only saw the revolution’s failure and became distrustful of revolutions and changes to the state, and eventually of the state itself. […]

The Road to Power 

trans. A.M. Simmons. Chicago: Samuel Bloch, 1909.

Chapter I: The Conquest Of Political Power

Friends and enemies of the Socialists agree upon one thing, and that is that they constitute a REVOLUTIONARY party. But unfortunately the idea of revolution is many-sided, and consequently the conceptions of the revolutionary character of our party differ very greatly. Not a few of our opponents insist upon understanding revolution to mean nothing else but anarchy, bloodshed, murder and arson. On the other hand there are some of our comrades to whom the coming social revolution appears to be nothing more than an extremely gradual, scarcely perceptible, even though ultimately a fundamental change to social relations, much of the same character as that produces by the steam engine.

So much is certain: that the Socialists, as the champions of the class interests of the proletariat, constitute a revolutionary party, because it is impossible to raise this class to a satisfactory existence within capitalist society; and because the liberation of the working class is only possible through the overthrow of private property in the means of production and rulership, and the substitution of social production for production for profit. The proletariat can attain to satisfaction of its wants only in a society whose institutions shall differ fundamentally from the present one.

In still another way the Socialists are revolutionary. They recognize that the power of the state is an instrument of class domination, and indeed the most powerful instrument, and that the social revolution for which the proletariat strives cannot be realized until it shall have captured political power.

It is by means of these fundamental principles, laid down by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, that the Socialists of today are distinguished from the so-called Utopian Socialists of the first half of the last century, such as Owen and Fourier. It also distinguishes them from those who, like Proudhon, either treat the political struggle as unimportant, or else reject it entirely, and who believe it possible to bring about the economic transformation demanded by the interest of the proletariat through purely economic means without changing or capturing the power of the state.

In their recognition of the necessity of capturing political power Marx and Engels agreed with Blanqui. But while Blanqui thought it possible to capture the power of the state by a sudden act of a conspiratory minority, and then to use that power in the interest of the proletariat, Marx and Engels recognized that revolutions are not made at will. They come with inevitable necessity, when the conditions which render them necessary exist, and are impossible so long as those conditions, which develop gradually, do not exist. Only where the capitalist methods of production are highly developed is there the possibility of using the power of the state to transform capitalistic property in the means of production into social property. On the other hand, the possibility of capturing and holding the state for the proletariat only exists where the working class has grown to great proportions, is in large part firmly organized, and conscious of its class interests and its relation to state and society.

These conditions are being constantly created by the development of the capitalist methods of production and the class struggle between capitalists and laborers growing therefrom. So it is that just as the continuous expansion of capitalism necessarily and inevitably goes on, so the inevitable antithesis to this expansion, the proletarian revolution, proceeds equally inevitably and irresistibly.

It is irresistible, because it is inevitable that the growing proletariat should resist exploitation, and that it should organize industrially, co-operatively and politically to secure for itself better conditions of life and labor, and greater political influence. Everywhere the proletariat develops these phases of activity whether it is socialistically minded or not. It is the mission of the Socialist movement to bring all these various activities of the proletariat against its exploitation into one conscious and unified movement, that will find its climax in the great final battle for the conquest of political power. […]

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat [1918]

Manchester: National Labour Press, 1919.

Chapter III: Democracy and the Ripening of the Proletariat

[…] The capitalist method of production makes use of this propertyless class of vagabonds, whose numbers assume large proportions in the beginning of the capitalist system. Out of superfluous, even dangerous parasites, they are transformed into the indispensable economic foundations of production, and therefore of society. Capitalism increases their numbers and multiplies their strength, but it exploits their ignorance, rawness and incapacity. It even seeks to depress the working classes to their level. By overwork, monotony and dullness of toil, labour of women and children, capitalism even presses the working classes below the level of the former vagabond class. The impoverishment of the proletariat increases in an alarming degree.

From it, however, the first striving towards Socialism appears as an effort to make an end of the growing poverty of the masses. It seemed, however, that this poverty must render the proletariat for ever incapable of emancipating itself. Bourgeois sympathy must save it, and bring Socialism about.

It is soon apparent that nothing can be expected from this sympathy. Sufficient strength to accomplish Socialism can only be expected from those whose interests lie that way, that is the proletarians. But were not they perishing without hope?

Not all, in fact. There were particular sections which had shown strength and courage to fight against poverty. This small fraction would do what the Utopians were not capable of doing.

By a sudden stroke it would capture the powers of the State, and bring Socialism to the people. This was the conception of Blanqui and Weitling. The proletariat, which was too ignorant and demoralised to organise and rule itself, should be organised and ruled by a government comprised of its educated elite, something like the Jesuits in Paraguay who had organised and governed the Indians. […]

Terrorism and Communism: A Contribution to the Natural History of Revolution

trans. W.H Kerridge. London: National Labour Press, 1919.

Chapter VI: The Second Paris Commune

The Jacobins in the Commune

At the election on March 26, ninety members of the Commune were elected. These included fifteen Government supporters, and six citizen radicals who were in opposition to the Government, but who nevertheless condemned the insurrection. […]

[…] The great majority of the members of the Commune were on the side of the insurrection. Moreover, among the revolutionary members of the Commune, not all were Socialists. The majority consisted simply of revolutionaries. Most of them were guided by the principles laid down in 1793, and by the traditions of the Jacobins. Some had already shown their allegiance in 1848 to the “Mountain,” for instance, Delescluse and Pyat, and not a few were forced out of their private professional life as the result of their political struggle, and became conspirators and revolutionaries by profession. The older members among them lived according to the traditions of the past, and had no real interest for new developments and conceptions. […]

Most of them understood nothing about Socialism, Not a few of them were directly against it, especially Delescluse. One could not call them bourgeois politicians in the sense that they at all represented the interests of the propertied classes. On the contrary they stood side by side with the lower classes and fought for them as much as the people of the “Mountain” of 1793 had done. But just like these latter, they could not escape from the questions of property and privilege belonging to the bourgeois classes, and for this reason they may be said to have formed a bourgeois element. This applies to the majority of the revolutionaries in the Commune. Only a few of them belonged to the working classes. Among them were to be found ordinary officials, apothecaries, investors, lawyers, and, above all, journalists. Different from the Jacobins were the Blanquists, seven in number, among them Blanqui himself, who, however, could not take his seat. It shows how little the Blanquists expected the insurrection of March 18th, for Blanqui, shortly before the outbreak, in order to recuperate his health, had left Paris. On March 17th he was arrested in Figeac (Department Lot). Blanqui agreed with the Jacobins on one point, namely, in their endeavour, by means of an insurrection on the part of the lower classes in Paris, to govern Paris; and through Paris, by means of a regime of force, the whole of France.

But they went further than the Jacobins, since they recognised that this method of government would not suffice to liberate the exploited, unless that government could be used to create a new social order. In other words they were Socialists. Yet in their case it was always the political rather than the economic interest that weighed most with them. They did not study economic life, nor did they endeavour to gain any systematic economic knowledge. They betrayed this characteristic by frequently excusing ignorance, saying that they wished to be entirely untrammelled by dogma. They did not want to be “bewildered” by prejudices and “academic discussion.” When the proletariat came into power, they said, it would very soon know what it had to do. Their chief concern was to give the proletariat this power, and they regarded the insurrection, which was being prepared, as a means towards this end.

They were unfortunate, however, since the insurrections which they carefully prepared always came to grief, and the one that was successful found them unprepared. Moreover, the Blanquist teaching made no great claims on the intelligence, but contented itself with immediate action. Indeed, this teaching had enormous attraction for men of action. In spite of this fact, however, it found more acceptance among the intellectuals, especially students, than among the workmen.

The following is a tabulation of the elements which constituted the Blanquist Party at that time. On November 17th, 1866, a secret meeting of the Blanquist group was surprised by the police in a Paris café and the members were arrested. There were forty-one, and each one’s occupation was given. These included fourteen artisans, four shop assistants, thirteen students, six journalists, one lawyer, one foreman, one landowner, and one independent merchant. The number of students would have been far greater, only, on November 7th the holidays were not yet at an end, and so many students were absent from Paris.

This meeting throws a light upon Blanquism, not only on the manner of its constitution but also on its aims. In September, 1866, the International Congress met in Geneva, and the Blanquists were invited to attend. Blanqui refused, but two of the chosen delegates, namely, the lawyer Protot and the employee Humbert, nevertheless went. In consequence there was great excitement in the Blanquist camp, for, according to its traditions, the dictatorship belonged, not only to the proletariat, but also to the leader of their party. Both kinds of dictatorship were closely connected. For the first time since the existence of the Blanquist organisation an order from the head of the party had been disobeyed. Up to that time they had followed in blind obedience, and even later they adhered to this principle. A meeting was held on November 7th in order to bring Protot to judgment; but this meeting was dissolved before any conclusion was reached. A few were able to take to flight, among them Protot himself. The others, as we have said, were arrested. (Charles Da Costa, Les Blanquists, Paris 1912, pp. 17-22).

Among the Blanquists of the Commune were found the lawyer Protot again, and also two of the members who were arrested on November 7th. They were the lawyer Tridon and the student Raoul Rigault. Among the others elected were Blanqui, a lawyer and a doctor (who had studied both faculties), Eudes, an apothecary, and Ferré, an accountant. In the whole Blanquist faction was found only one single working man, the coppersmith Chardon. Of the elected members of the International who were found in the Commune two had relations with the Blanquists, namely, a smith, Duval, and the student Vaillant. We see how much the intellectuals preponderated amongst them. Even within the Commune itself, the Jacobins, like the Blanquists, troubled little about economic questions. The war against Versailles, the policing of Paris, and the struggle against the Church – these were the questions to which they devoted their energies. This last struggle also, like the military struggle against Versailles and the police struggle against the Versailles associates in Paris, was carried out by means of force, and by an attack on persons and externalities.

The International and the Commune

The third of the groups in the Commune was formed by members of the international, seventeen in number, almost exclusively Proudhonists. Proudhonisrn was in sharp contrast to Blanquism and Jacobinism. The Regime of Terror of 1793 was for Proudhonism something to be avoided, not to be imitated. It saw very clearly the weaknesses of this regime and the unavoidability of its failure. It realised that the mere acquirement of political power on the part of the proletariat could alter nothing in its social position, and that it could not abolish the system of exploitation from which the proletariat suffered. It realized further that the change could be reached not by political disturbances but only through an economic reorganisation. This, therefore, made the Proudhonists suspicious of the Blanquist methods suspicious of the insurrection and of Terrorism, and none the less opposed to democracy. In the February Revolution of 1848 the Parisian Proletariat had conquered the democracy; but what had it gained by its action? A growing mistrust of the proletarian struggle for political freedom, and of the participation of the proletariat in matters of policy animated the Proudhonists.

Today similar ideas have arisen, and are offered as the latest products of Socialistic thought, as the product of experience, which Marx neither knew nor could know of. These are merely variations of ideas that are over half a century old, but they have not for that reason become more correct. Proudhonism showed how a policy for the liberation of the proletariat, undertaken by means of an economic transformation alone, is doomed to failure. To-day we preach about the powerlessness of democracy to free the proletariat, so long as this proletariat is held bound in the chains of capitalism. But if economic liberation must precede the political, then, logically, every kind of political activity on the, part of the proletariat is equally useless, of whatever kind it may be. Whereas the Blanquists devoted their attention exclusively to the political struggle against the existing powers of State, Proudhonism, equally exclusively, sought means to give the proletariat economic freedom, without any assistance from the State. As a consequence, the Blanquists reproached the Proudhonists for discouraging the working classes in their struggle against the Second Empire, under which they lay bleeding. Even Marx accused Proudhon, saying that “he coquetted with Louis Bonaparte and endeavoured to justify him in the eyes of the French working-men.” (In his article of January, 1865, which appeared in the German edition of Poverty of Philosophy, second edition, p.32.) On the other hand, the Proudhonists were conscious of the class antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeois, for the good reason that, with the Proudhonists, the economic question was of first importance. They realised, further, that the proletariat would have to trust to its own strength to gain its freedom. They realised this far more than the Blanquists; for these latter were to a large extent a student party, whereas the Proudhonists formed the real Labour Party in France under the Second Empire.

When in the ’sixties the Labour Movement everywhere awoke from the death-sleep into which it fell, as a, result of the reaction after 1848, and at the time when the International of the working party was being formed, it was the Proudhonists in France who joined up with them. This was reason enough for Blanqui to forbid his followers to attach themselves also. In the International, however, they learnt to know of a new order of theory and practice, which made them turn away all the more from one-sided Proudhonism. For just at the time of the foundation of the International Labour League, their leader, Proudhon, died on January 19th, 1865, and in France a new condition arose for the continuation of the class struggle. Proudhon wished to inaugurate a purely labour movement without polities, but that was possible only by renouncing all attempts at a struggle that would involve their coming into conflict with State authority. Quite peaceful means were to be employed to free the working classes, namely, guilds, banks of exchange, a mutual system of insurance. These ideas were possible in Paris where industry, as has been shown before, had very little of the character of manufacture on a large scale, and where the exploiting capitalist appeared to the workman much more as the monied capitalist, taking all the profits, than as a real industrial contractor.

In the International the French Proudhonists learnt something of English industrial capitalism, and of a Labour Movement corresponding to this capitalism, which laid most emphasis, in economic matters, on the importance of the organisation of their struggle, on Trade Unions and strikes, with which the Proudhonist would have nothing to do. Over and above this system of practice, there arose a theory which shed the clearest light upon the laws underlying modern society and social life, a theory which was still unknown to the majority of the International, and was not rightly understood even by those who knew. The creator of this theory, however, by his immense superiority, inspired the International in all its activity with his spirit and ideas. In Marx’s theory, the one-sidedness of Proudhonism and of Blanquism also was overcome. Like the Proudhonists, Marx recognised that the economic relations were of the first importance, and that without some alteration of these relations no political change of whatever kind could possibly emancipate the proletariat. But, nonetheless, he recognised that the possession of State power and authority was absolutely necessary in order to break the domination of capital, and in order to carry out the emancipation of the proletariat by economic changes. The fundamental importance of the economic factor received at the hands of Marx an utterly different character from that given by Proudhon. Economics in the eyes of Marx made politics not superfluous, but necessary. The character and outcome of political struggle and its very effect, depended, to a large extent, on the economic question. But he realised that economic conditions themselves form a steadily progressing process, which makes a political result possible to-day and inevitable to-morrow, whereas yesterday it seemed impossible. The relation between economics and politics consisted for him in studying the economic conditions and tendencies, and in attempting to make political aims and methods fit in with them. The Blanquists and Proudhonists, on the other hand, entirely neglected the historical aspect. Their chief endeavour was not at any given moment to find out what was possible and necessary from an economic point of view, but to find the means which, under all conditions and in all historical and economic circumstances, should give the desired result. If the Socialists have found the right means, they are then in a position to carry out their Socialism exactly as they wish. It was believed that these ideas had been superseded by Marxism, but we find them still in existence even to-day. Once again we find men in Moscow and Budapest who, instead of asking what policy is possible and necessary in the present economic conditions, are proceeding from the standpoint that, since Socialism is desired by the Proletariat, the Socialists have a duty to carry out their Socialism, wherever they have the power to do so. Their duty consists not in examining whether, and how far, this scheme is possible, but in discovering where the Philosopher’s stone is to be found, that universal remedy which Socialism, in all circumstances and in all conditions, undertakes to provide. And people of the present day believe that this problem has been solved by the proclamation of the dictatorship on the basis of the Council system. In the Second French Empire the Blanquists thought to discover the Philosopher’s stone in a revolt, the Proudhonists, in the banks of exchange. […]

Chapter VII: The Effect of Civilisation on Human Customs

[…] The war has not only brought the most solid elements of the working-classes into the forefront of the class struggle; but it has also, as the result of the collapse of the armies, especially in those parts of Europe which are economically most solid, created the proletarian class in the various towns, by the side of which illiterate peasants, such as are to be found in Russia, have not been able to acquire any real independent political power. No class ever voluntarily renounces the power that it has won for itself, whatever be the circumstances that have brought it to the fore. It would he folly to demand of the Russian and Hungarian proletariats such renunciation, an account of the backward state of their countries. But a Socialist Party led by a truly Marxist spirit would adapt the present problems confronting the victorious proletariat to the material and psychical conditions to be found ready to hand; and would not endeavour, without further reflection, to introduce an immediate and complete socialisation in a land of undeveloped capitalist production like Russia.

Certainly it is questionable whether such a party could ever lead the masses. To the practical politicians it seems more important to rule at the moment, than to run the danger of an economic failure, with a view to being ultimately in the right. The practical politician does not like being in a position of inviting unpopularity at the present moment, because the inevitable collapse of a policy, which exceeds the bounds of possibility, has been made clear. He prefers to avoid the collapse, and to preserve his ideal from being compromised. The old antagonism between practical politics and theoretical politics, between Lassalle and Marx, rose again after the revolution in Russia in 1917. Marx declared in his letter to Kugelmann, of the 23rd February, 1865 (published by me in the Socialist, 1st May, 1918), that the German working men, as a result of the reaction of 1849-1859, had became too much hampered in their development not to “become jubilant when a deliverer, in the form of a mob orator like Lassalle, comes and promises to help them at one move to enter the promised land.” Such “moves” and such “deliverers” were not to Marx’s taste. But, as at the time of Lassalle, the time of the Second Russian Revolution, if for quite other reasons, proved to be very unfavourable to “Marxist” doctrines. Those among the labouring classes in Russia, who had been trained on Marxist lines, were dead or swept away the backward masses, who had suddenly awakened to life. It was pre-Marxist ways of thought that gained the upper hand, ways such as were represented by Blanqui, Weitling or Bakunin. These were the conditions under which the Revolution, first of all in Russia and then in the neighbouring countries, progressed. No wonder therefore, that it awoke afresh only primitive ways of thought ; and also allowed brutal and murderous forms of political and social war to come to light, forms which one had been led to believe had been overcome by the intellectual and. moral rise of the proletariat. […]

Communism and Socialism 

trans. Joseph Shaplen. New York: American League for Democratic Socialism, 1932.

Chapter III: Dictatorship in the Party

[…] [T]he peculiar conditions prevailing in Russia remained unfavorable for the development of consistent Marxism. In Germany, too, it made itself felt effectively only with the rise of her heavy industry and after her political constitution had provided ample opportunity for the creation of free working class organizations, a socialist mass literature, as well as the participation of the masses in strikes and electoral battles. In Russia, even after the establishment of the Social-Democratic Labor Party, the industrial workers remained relatively small in numbers, while retaining their peasant viewpoint, without any proletarian consciousness of their own. Added to this was the fact that only a secret press and secret organizations were possible, which, naturally, could not be developed beyond painfully restricted proportions. The conditions unfavorable to the development of Marxism remained. Even many of those who considered themselves Marxists fell victim to these conditions. They did not deny Marxism but interpreted it frequently in a rather fanatical sense. And involuntarily they injected into it in increasing measure ideas of a pre-Marxian, Blanquist or Bakuninist colors.

Outstanding among the Marxists of this character was Vladimir Ulianov, better known as Lenin. He joined the Social-Democratic Labor Party at its inception. He accepted its program, having helped formulate it. What first brought him into conflict with the consistent Marxists in the party was the question of party organization. Under the conditions prevailing in czarist Russia this organization was of necessity a secret one. Nevertheless, the intention was to give it a form conducive to the highest possible development of the intellectual and spiritual powers of its members and the promotion of independent thinking among the greatest possible number of the workers. This could be achieved only through the closest participation of all party comrades in party work, their intimate contact with the labor movement, i.e. only through the widest possible measure of democracy within the party.

This was entirely in accord with the ideas of Marx, who at the beginning of the movement regarded democracy less as a means of gaining political power and more as an instrument of education of the masses.

The Communist League, which Marx and Engels joined in 1847, was obliged to be a secret organization under the political circumstances then prevailing on the continent of Europe. And such, indeed, it was at the beginning. Such an organization presupposes the vesting of its leadership with dictatorial power. Our teachers declined to accept this, however. They joined the league only after it had ceased to be a conspiracy, although it had been obliged to remain a secret organization, due to the absence of all freedom of organization. Engels reports about it as follows:

The organization (of the Communist League) itself was entirely democratic, with elected officials, always subject to removal, thereby putting an end to all urge for conspiracy, which requires dictatorship. (Introduction to K. Marx. The Cologne Trial, Zurich 1885, p.10).

The First International of 1864, like its predecessor, the Communist League, was also compelled to maintain secret organizations in some countries. Nevertheless, Marx and Engels fought repeatedly against transforming the International into a conspiratory organization, as Mazzini would have it. Marx won over Mazzini. The first International was organized not dictatorially but democratically. Marx was also opposed to the manner in which the General Workingmen’s Association was organized in Germany in 1863, and in which Lassalle wielded dictatorial power. In contrast to the Lassalleans, the Eisenach group under Bebel and Liebknecht, who had Marx’s support, was organized in 1869 democratically. The dictatorial form of organization very soon became obsolete. All proletarian organizations in Germany adopted the democratic form.

Nevertheless, the urge for a conspiratory organization with unlimited dictatorial power for the leader and blind obedience of the members continues to manifest itself wherever the organization must be a secret one, where the masses do not as yet possess their own movement and where the political organization is regarded not as a means of educating the proletariat to independence but as a means of obtaining political power at one stroke. Not the class struggle but the “putch”, the coup d’etat, is thus brought into the foreground of interest, and together with this a form of militarist thinking is carried into the party organization, the kind of thinking which, relies upon victory in civil war rather than upon intellectual and economic elevation of the masses. The latter are regarded as mere cannon fodder, whose utilization can be made all the easier the more obedient they are to any command, without independent thought and will of their own.

The Social-Democracy of Russia was organized democratically, in accordance with Marxian principles. But Lenin soon discovered that this was a mistake. He began to demand ever greater powers for the central organ of the party and increasingly circumscribed powers for the membership.

Axelrod, Vera Sassulitch, Potresov, Martov and, later, Plekhanov opposed him. Even Rosa Luxemburg, who was more inclined to aide with him in other matters, expressed misgivings on the score of dictatorship which Lenin sought to introduce in the party.

In his brochure One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward (1904), Lenin went so far as to assert:

Bureaucratism against democracy – that must be the organization principle of the revolutionary Social Democracy against the organization principle of the opportunists. (p.51)

I take the following from a criticism of Lenin by Rosa Luxemburg in Die Neue Zeit (XXII. 2). She declared:

The establishment of centralization in the Social-Democracy on the basis of blind obedience, to the very smallest detail, to a central authority, in all matters of party organization and activity; a central authority which does all the thinking, attends to everything and decides everything; a central authority isolating the center of the party from the surrounding revolutionary milieu – as demanded by Lenin – appears to us as an attempt to transfer mechanically the organization principle of Blanquist conspiratory workmen’s circles to the Social-Democratic mass movement. (pp.488, 489).

Lenin’s ideas are calculated principally to promote control of party activity and not its development, to foster the limitation rather than the growth, the strangulation rather than the solidarity and expansion of the movement. (p.492).

That was how Rosa Luxemburg characterized Leninism from its very beginning. No wonder she is today in Stalin’s Index of counter-revolutionists. […]

Marxism and Bolshevism: Democracy and Dictatorship’

in Socialism, Fascism, Communism, eds. Joseph Shaplen and David Shub. New York: American League for Democratic Socialism, 1934.

Chapter II: Marx and Revolution

Quite early in his career Marx realized, and in this he proved superior to the other Socialists of his day, that the liberation of the working class could be achieved only by the working class itself, that no paternalistic friend from the bourgeoisie, nor a select proletarian vanguard could accomplish this task for the masses. But like other Socialists he had to admit that the masses were not yet ripe for the struggle. How was this ripeness to be achieved? Through well meaning tutors from above? Grown-up people will not submit to the guardianship of tutors. Where this attempt is made either by Christians or by atheists it usually degenerates into a loathsome, priestly presumptuousness on the part of the tutor and a hypocritical submission of the tutored.

Grown-ups can be taught by life alone. Marx expected the education of the proletariat to come from life, that is to say, he expected it to come from capitalist development and its effect upon the proletariat. Marx pointed this out already in the Communist Manifesto. Industry draws the workers together in large numbers and thereby increases their class consciousness. At the same time conflicts with the employers grow, trade unions develop. The extension of the conflicts to all industry transforms the occasional local clashes into a class struggle. This class struggle becomes political, finding expression in political changes. But the proletariat was not strong enough to overcome the forces tending toward the pauperization of the masses, which was the predominant feature of capitalism everywhere. The Communist Manifesto had yet to prove the absolute impoverishment of the industrial proletariat. “The modern worker, instead of improving his condition with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper under the circumstances affecting his own class. The worker becomes a pauper and pauperism develops even faster than population and wealth.”

Under such conditions, whence could come that moral and intellectual advancement which alone could make possible the self-liberation of the proletariat?

Marx expected it to come as a result of revolution, the advent of which he correctly foresaw. He had studied the French Revolution. It bore at the beginning a purely bourgeois character but grew more and more radical, and finally led to the rule, only for a short time, to be sure, of the working classes. The revolution developed enormously not only the political courage but also the political understanding of the masses of the people, until then inert and ignorant. Opposed as Marx already was at the time of the Communist Manifesto to the policy of plots and coups des mains preached by the Blanquists, he was still strongly influenced by their Jacobin traditions. In the first months of 1850, in his articles on The Class Struggles in France, published in 1895 by Engels in pamphlet form, he regarded the Blanquists as properly the workers’ party of France. They, above all others, held his sympathies.

In 1847 Marx assumed that the forthcoming revolution would run the same course as did the Great Revolution but with a proletariat “much further advanced” by the growth of large industries. The revolution was to last long enough to lift the proletariat quickly to the necessary mental level. Hence “the German bourgeois revolution could serve only as a direct prelude to a proletarian revolution.”

This expectation was not realized. The force of the German revolution of 1848 spent itself within a few months and the proletariat as an independent factor played no part in it. What happened then was the same thing that was to happen to Marx often enough later, and still more often to us Marxists. He correctly foresaw the direction in which events were moving but he misjudged the rate at which they were moving.

Yet none learned so readily from experience as did Marx, even when the experience ran counter to his innermost wishes. It was precisely his materialist method that facilitated this learning from experience, for it stressed the study of the surrounding world and not that of personal wishes and emotions.

Already in September 1850 he came out against the view that “we must strive to gain power immediately” and declared that the workers might have to go through “15, 20, 30 years of civil strife and foreign wars in order to change not only conditions but to change yourselves, to qualify yourselves for rulership.”

This sounded quite different from the expectation that the coming bourgeois revolution would be the “direct prelude to a proletarian revolution.” Yet even this new, more prudent hope proved too sanguine. Since it was first uttered, not only 15, 20, 30 years but 80 years have passed. To be sure, these have not been years of stagnation. The strides made by the proletariat toward the achievement of political independence and skill during the intervening period has been enormous.

Though Marx in 1850 rose superior to the majority of his Communist comrades who at that time were still dreaming of the immediate seizure of political power by the proletariat, he had not yet fully rid himself of his old Jacobin-Blanquist traditions. In armed struggle, in “civil strife and foreign wars” he still saw the means of lifting the proletariat to a higher level. He had not yet realized that every bloody struggle, including a popular war, inspiring and uplifting as it may appear at the beginning, in the long run demoralizes its participants and, far from increasing, actually reduces their capacity for constructive effort in the field of production as well as in political life.

During the decade following 1850, Marx had opportunity to study the laws underlying commodity production in England, namely its capitalist form, and expounded them more clearly than had been done by any student before him. But he also perceived the opportunity for effective action by the English working class under the democratic political institutions prevailing in England. He saw that under such freedom it was possible for the proletariat to overcome the tendency under capitalism to absolute impoverishment of the workers. In his inaugural address (1864) as well as in Capital (1867) he welcomed the salutary results of the ten hour work day, as an improvement over the longer hours then prevailing in English factories and plants. Of course, this did not blind him to the fact that the possessing classes in England were able amazing gain in wealth and power, while at the same time the absolute pauperization of those proletarian groups which were not protected either by state laws or by strong trade unions advanced still further, and that among those protected by the law the improvement in conditions lagged behind the increase in the wealth of capital, so that their position became relatively if not absolutely worse.

Nevertheless, the proof was furnished that under conditions of adequate freedom the workers could by their own efforts lift themselves to a high enough level to be able finally to achieve political power not through “civil strife and foreign wars” but through the class struggle waged by their political and economic mass organizations. The condition prerequisite for such a struggle is an adequate measure of political freedom. Where this is lacking, where it has yet to be won, “civil strife and foreign wars” may be necessary to achieve democracy as essential to the rise of the working class. Where democracy exists, it is not necessary for the working class to resort to armed force as a means of attaining power. […]

Engels survived his great friend. He lived to witness the abolition of the exception laws in Austria, the rescinding of the Anti-Socialist law in Germany, the beginning of the rapid growth of the labor movement all over Europe. He was thus in a position to sum up the results of this particular phase of development for Marxism. He did this in his famous introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France.

A peculiar situation developed in the military-bureaucratic countries at that time. From 1890 the labor movement grew by leaps and bounds, marching from victory to victory. Side by side with this continued the domination of the military, the police and the centralized government administration, with the monarch as its head. But now with this domination was associated a rapidly growing class of capitalists headed by great monopolists representing banks and heavy industry. These capitalists allied themselves more and more readily with the large landowners against whom previously they had fought. The magnates in the cities and country together dominated the government.

The conflict between the two camps – the proletarians and the profit makers – became ever sharper. It was bound to culminate in a violent clash. But Social-Democracy had no reason to hasten a violent collision. Under the conditions prevailing it was growing in power from year to year. The number of proletarians grew faster than that of any other part of the population. And the influence of Social-Democracy on the proletariat was increasing in the same measure. The number of proletarians and Social-Democrats in the army also increased. And this army was less and less to be relied upon by the government in case of internal war.

It was vitally important for Social-Democracy not to disturb this state of affairs by a premature, violent collision with the government. It had to strive to postpone this collision as long as possible. Our opponents thought quite differently. The unscrupulous element among them endeavored to hasten the clash by provoking the masses into premature action.

Thus the revolutionary tactics of the Socialists as pursued hitherto were reversed. Engels pointed out: “We the ‘revolutionaries’, the ‘overthrowers’ thrive better by the use of legitimate methods than by using illegitimate ones and revolution.”

Marx had never believed in the possibility of bringing about a revolution at will. Therein he differed already in his early works from the Blanquists. But as long as there was no political freedom for the proletariat, he was impelled to wish ardently for the speediest possible coming of the revolution, first as a democratic-bourgeois revolution, which would bring the necessary political freedom. During the fifties and sixties he eagerly looked for signs of the coming revolution arising either from war or civil conflicts.

But now the situation was quite different. Engels, too, saw the coming of the revolution, but he hoped it might be postponed. And he feared new wars. They might bring on the revolution but they threatened to ruin the proletariat, the only revolutionary class that still existed. They might destroy the revolution and impair the ability of the proletariat to utilize it, for what was expected from the revolution was that it would bring not merely political freedom, but power itself. […]