Saturday, February 15, 2020

Trotsky versus the renegade Kautsky

Some arresting excerpts from Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism, written a hundred years ago. I read it for the first time last week.

....Kautsky is the founder and the most perfect representative of the Austrian forgery of Marxism. 

....the Austrian school was transformed into an academy of passivity and evasiveness, because of a vulgar historical and conservative school, and reduced its work to explaining and justifying, not guiding and overthrowing. It lowered itself to the position of a handmaid to the current demands of parliamentarism and opportunism, replaced dialectic by swindling sophistries, and, in the end, in spite of its great play with ritual revolutionary phraseology, became transformed into the most secure buttress of the capitalist State, together with the altar and throne that rose above it. If the latter was engulfed in the abyss, no blame for this can be laid upon the Austro-Marxian school.

     What characterizes Austro-Marxism is repulsion and fear in the face of revolutionary action. The Austro-Marxist is capable of displaying a perfect gulf of profundity in the explanation of yesterday, and considerable daring in prophesying concerning to-morrow – but for to-day he never has a great thought or capacity for great action. To-day for him always disappears before the wave of little opportunist worries, which later are explained as the most inevitable link between the past and the future.

     The Austro-Marxist is inexhaustible when it is a question of discovering reasons to prevent initiative and render difficult revolutionary action. Austro-Marxism is a learned and boastful theory of passivity and capitulation. Naturally, it is not by accident that it was just in Austria, in that Babylon torn by fruitless national antagonisms, in that State which represented the personified impossibility to exist and develop, that there arose and was consolidated the pseudo-Marxian philosophy of the impossibility of revolutionary action.

     The foremost Austrian Marxists represent, each in his own way, a certain "individuality." On various questions they more than once did not see eye to eye. They even had political differences. But in general they are fingers of the same hand.

     Karl Renner is the most pompous, solid, and conceited representative of this type. The gift of literary imitation, or, more simply, of stylist forgery, is granted to him to an exceptional extent. His May-Day article represented a charming combination of the most revolutionary words. And, as both words and their combinations live, within certain limits, with their own independent life, Renner's articles awakened in the hearts of many workers a revolutionary fire which their author apparently never knew. The tinsel of Austro-Viennese culture, the chase of the external, of title of rank, was more characteristic of Renner than of his other colleagues. In Essence he always remained merely an imperial and royal officer, who commanded Marxist phraseology to perfection.

     The transformation of the author of the jubilee article on Karl Marx, famous for its revolutionary pathos, into a comic-opera Chancellor, who expresses his feelings of respect and thanks to the Scandinavian monarchs, is in reality one of the most instructive paradoxes of history.

     Otto Bauer is more learned and prosaic, more serious and more boring, than Renner. He cannot be denied the capacity to read books, collect facts, and draw conclusions adapted to the tasks imposed upon him by practical politics, which in turn are guided by others. Bauer has no political will. His chief art is to reply to all acute practical questions by commonplaces. His political thought always lives a parallel life to his will – it is deprived of all courage. His words are always merely the scientific compilation of the talented student of a University seminar. The most disgraceful actions of Austrian opportunism the meanest servility before the power of the possessing classes on the part of the Austro-German Social Democracy, found in Bauer their grave elucidator, who sometimes expressed himself with dignity against the form, but always agreed in the essence. If it ever occurred to Bauer to display anything like temperament and political energy, it was exclusively in the struggle against the revolutionary wing – in the accumulation of arguments, facts, quotations, against revolutionary action. His highest period was that (after 1907) in which, being as yet too young to be a deputy, he played the part of secretary of the Social-Democratic group, supplied it with materials, figures, substitutes for ideas, instructed it, drew up memoranda, and appeared almost to be the inspirer of great actions, when in reality he was only supplying substitutes, and adulterated substitutes, for the parliamentary opportunists.

     Max Adler represents a fairly ingenuous variety of the Austro-Marxian type. He is a lyric poet, a philosopher, a mystic – a philosophical lyric poet of passivity, as Renner is its publicist and legal expert, as Hilferding is its economist, as Baner is its sociologist. Max Adler is cramped in a world of three dimensions, although he had found a very comfortable place for himself with the framework of Viennese bourgeois Socialism and the Hapsburg State. The combination of the petty business activity of an attorney and of political humiliation, together with barren philosophical efforts and the cheap tinsel flowers of idealism, have imbued that variety which Max Adler represented with a sickening and repulsive quality.

     Rudolf Hilferding, a Viennese like the rest, entered the German Social-Democractic Party almost as a mutineer, but as a mutineer of the Austrian stamp, i.e., always ready to capitulate without a fight. Hilferding took the external mobility and bustle of the Austrian policy which brought him up for revolutionary initiative; and for a round dozen of months he demanded – true, in the most moderate terms – a more intelligent policy on the part of the leaders of the German Social-Democracy. But the Austro-Viennese bustle swiftly disappeared from his own nature. He soon became subjected to the mechanical rhythm of Berlin and the automatic spiritual life of the German Social-Democracy. He devoted his intellectual energy to the purely theoretical sphere, where he did not say a great deal, true – no Austro-Marxist has ever said a great deal in any sphere – but in which he did, at any rate, write a serious book. With this book on his back, like a porter with a heavy load, he entered the revolutionary epoch. But the most scientific book cannot replace the absence of will, of initiative, of revolutionary instinct and political decision, without which action is inconceivable. A doctor by training, Hilferding is inclined to sobriety, and, in spite of his theoretical education, he represents the most primitive type of empiricist in questions of policy. The chief problem of to-day is for him not to leave the lines laid down for him by yesterday, and to find for this conservative and bourgeois apathy a scientific, economic explanation.

     Friedrich Adler is the most balanced representative of the Austro-Marxian type. He has inherited from his father the latter's political temperament. In the petty exhausting struggle with the disorder of Austrian conditions, Friedrich Adler allowed his ironical scepticism finally to destroy the revolutionary foundations of his world outlook. The temperament inherited from his father more than once drove him into opposition to the school created by his father. At certain moments Friedrich Adler might seem the very revolutionary negation of the Austrian school. in reality, he was and remains its necessary coping-stone. His explosive revolutionism foreshadowed acute attacks of despair amidst Austrian opportunism, which from time to time became terrified at its own insignificance.

     Friedrich Adler is a sceptic from head to foot: he does not believe in the masses, or in their capacity for action. At the time when Karl Liebknecht, in the hour of supreme triumph of German militarism, went out to the Potsdamerplatz to call the oppressed masses to the open struggle, Friedrich Adler went into a bourgeois restaurant to assassinate there the Austrian Premier. By his solitary shot, Friedrich Adler vainly attempted to put an end to his own scepticism. After that hysterical strain, he fell into still more complete prostration.

     The black-and-yellow crew of social-patriotism (Austerlitz, Leitner, etc.) hurled at Adler the terrorist all the abuse of which the cowardly sentiments were capable.

     But when the acute period was passed, and the prodigal son returned from his convict prison into his father's house with the halo of a martyr, he proved to be doubly and trebly valuable in that form for the Austrian Social-Democracy. The golden halo of the terrorist was transformed by the experienced counterfeiters of the party into the sounding coin of the demagogue. Friedrich Adler became a trusted surety for the Austerlitzes and Renners in face of the masses. Happily, the Austrian workers are coming less and less to distinguish the sentimental lyrical prostration of Friedrich Adler from the pompous shallowness of Renner, the erudite impotence of Max Adler, or the analytical self-satisfaction of Otto Bauer.

     The cowardice in thought of the theoreticians of the Austro-Marxian school has completely and wholly been revealed when faced with the great problems of a revolutionary epoch.

["Free" labor versus compulsory labor]

....The whole of human history is the history of the organization and education of collective man for labor, with the object of attaining a higher level of productivity. Man, as I have already permitted myself to point out, is lazy; that is, he instinctively strives to receive the largest possible quantity of products for the least possible expenditure of energy. Without such a striving, there would have been no economic development. The growth of civilization is measured by the productivity of human labor, and each new form of social relations must pass through a test on such lines.

"Free," that is, freely-hired labor, did not appear all at once upon the world, with all the attributes of productivity. It acquired a high level of productivity only gradually, as a result of a prolonged application of methods of labor organization and labor education. Into that education there entered the most varying methods and practices, which in addition changed from one epoch to another. First of all the bourgeoisie drove the peasant from the village to the high road with its club, having preliminarily robbed him of his land, and when he would not work in the factory it branded his forehead with red-hot irons, hung him, sent him to the gallows; and in the long run it taught the tramp who had been shaken out of his village to stand at the lathe in the factory. At this stage, as we see, "free" labor is little different as yet from convict labor, both in its material conditions and in its legal aspect.

At different times the bourgeoisie combined the red-hot irons of repression in different proportions with methods of moral influence, and, first of all, the teaching of the priest. As early as the sixteenth century, it reformed the old religion of Catholicism, which defended the feudal order, and adapted for itself a new religion in the form of the Reformation, which combined the free soul with free trade and free labor. It found for itself new priests, who became the spiritual shop-assistants, pious counter-jumpers of the bourgeoisie. The school, the press, the market place, and parliament were adapted by the bourgeoisie for the moral fashioning of the working-class. Different forms of wages – day-wages, piece wages, contract and collective bargaining – all these are merely changing methods in the hands of the bourgeoisie for the labor mobilization of the proletariat. To this there are added all sorts of forms for encouraging labor and exciting ambition. Finally, the bourgeoisie learned how to gain possession even of the trade unions – i.e., the organizations of the working class itself; and it made use of them on a large scale, particularly in Great Britain, to discipline the workers. It domesticated the leaders, and with their help inoculated the workers with the fiction of the necessity for peaceful organic labor, for a faultless attitude to their duties, and for a strict execution of the laws of the bourgeois State. The crown of all this work is Taylorism, in which the elements of the scientific organization of the process of production are combined with the most concentrated methods of the system of sweating.

From all that has been said above, it is clear that the productivity of freely-hired labor is not something that appeared all at once, perfected, presented by history on a salver. No, it was the result of a long and stubborn policy of repression, education, organization, and encouragement, applied by the bourgeoisie in its relations with the working class. Step by step it learned to squeeze out of the workers ever more and more of the products of labor; and one of the most powerful weapons in its hand turned out to be the proc1amation of free hiring as the sole free, normal, healthy, productive, and saving form of labor.

A legal form of labor which would of its own virtue guarantee its productivity has not been known in history, and cannot be known. The legal superstructure of labor corresponds to the relations and current ideas of the epoch. The productivity of labor is developed, on the basis of the development of technical forces, by labor education, by the gradual adaptation of the workers to the changed methods of reduction and the new form of social relations.

The creation of Socialist society means the organization of the workers on new foundations, their adaptation to those foundations, and their labor re-education, with the one un-changing end of the increase in the productivity of labor. The working class, under the leadership of its vanguard, must itself re-educate itself on the foundations of Socialism. Whoever has not understood this is ignorant of the ABC of Socialist construction.

What methods have we, then, for the re-education of the workers? Infinitely wider than the bourgeoisie has – and, in addition, honest, direct, open methods, infected neither by hypocrisy nor by lies. The bourgeoisie had to have recourse to deception, representing its labor as free, when in reality it was not merely socially-imposed, but actually slave labor. For it was the labor of the majority in the interests of the minority. We, on the other hand, organize labor in the interests of the workers themselves, and therefore we can have no motives for hiding or masking the socially compulsory character of our labor organization. We need the fairy stories neither of the priests, nor of the Liberals, nor of the Kautskians. We say directly and openly to the masses that they can save, rebuild, and bring to a flourishing condition a Socialist country only by means of hard work, unquestioning discipline and exactness in execution on the part of every worker....


....Born of the struggle of the Third Estate against the powers of feudalism, the democratic State very soon becomes the weapon of defence against the class antagonisms generated within bourgeois society. Bourgeois society succeeds in this the more, the wider beneath it is the layer of the lower middle class, the greater is the importance of the latter in the economic life of the country, and the less advanced, consequently, is the development of class antagonism. However, the intermediate classes become ever more and more helplessly behind historical development, and, thereby, become ever more and more incapable of speaking in the name of the nation. True, the lower middle class doctrinaires (Bernstein and Company) used to demonstrate with satisfaction that the disappearance of the middle classes was not taking place with that swiftness that was expected by the Marxian school. And, in reality, one might agree that, numerically, the middle-class elements in the town, and especially in the country, still maintain an extremely prominent position. But the chief meaning of evolution has shown itself in the decline in importance on the part of the middle classes from the point of view of production: the amount of values which this class brings to the general income of the nation has fallen incomparably more rapidly than the numerical strength of the middle classes. Correspondingly, falls their social, political, and cultural importance. Historical development has been relying more and more, not on these conservative elements inherited from the past, but on the polar classes of society – i.e., the capitalist bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The more the middle classes lost their social importance, the less they proved capable of playing the part of an authoritative arbitral judge in the historical conflict between capital and labor. Yet the very considerable numerical proportion of the town middle classes, and still more of the peasantry, continues to find direct expression in the electoral statistics of parliamentarism. The formal equality of all citizens as electors thereby only gives more open indication of the incapacity of democratic parliamentarism to settle the root questions of historical evolution. An "equal" vote for the proletariat, the peasant, and the manager of a trust formally placed the peasant in the position of a mediator between the two antagonists; but, in reality, the peasantry, socially and culturally backward and politically helpless, has in all countries always provided support for the most reactionary, filibustering, and mercenary parties which, in the long run, always supported capital against labor.

Absolutely contrary to all the prophecies of Bernstein, Sombart, Tugan-Baranovsky, and others, the continued existence of the middle classes has not softened, but has rendered to the last degree acute, the revolutionary crisis of bourgeois society. If the proletarianization of the lower middle classes and the peasantry had been proceeding in a chemically purified form, the peaceful conquest of power by the proletariat through the democratic parliamentary apparatus would have been much more probable than we can imagine at present. Just the fact that was seized upon by the partisans of the lower middle class – its longevity – has proved fatal even for the external forms of political democracy, now that capitalism has undermined its essential foundations. Occupying in parliamentary politics a place which it has lost in production, the middle class has finally compromised parliamentarism and has transformed it into an institution of confused chatter and legislative obstruction. From this fact alone, there grew up before the proletariat the problem of seizing the apparatus of state power as such, independently of the middle class, and even against it – not against its interests, but against its stupidity and its policy, impossible to follow in its helpless contortions....

From Chapter 3 

Terrorism and Communism by Leon Trotsky (1920)

....We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the clarity of its theoretical vision and its strong revolutionary organization that the party has afforded to the Soviets the possibility of becoming transformed from shapeless parliaments of labor into the apparatus of the supremacy of labor. In this "substitution" of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class. It is quite natural that, in the period in which history brings up those interests, in all their magnitude, on to the order of the day, the Communists have become the recognized representatives of the working class as a whole.

     But where is your guarantee, certain wise men ask us, that it is just your party that expresses the interests of historical development? Destroying or driving underground the other parties, you have thereby prevented their political competition with you, and consequently you have deprived yourselves of the possibility of testing your line of action.

     This idea is dictated by a purely liberal conception of the course of the revolution. In a period in which all antagonisms assume an open character, and the political struggle swiftly passes into a civil war, the ruling party has sufficient material standard by which to test its line of action, without the possible circulation of Menshevik papers. Noske crushes the Communists, but they grow. We have suppressed the Mensheviks and the SRs – and they have disappeared. This criterion is sufficient for us. At all events, our problem is not at every given moment statistically to measure the grouping of tendencies; but to render victory for our tendency secure. For that tendency is the tendency of the revolutionary dictatorship; and in the course of the latter, in its internal friction, we must find a sufficient criterion for self-examination.

....Kautsky quotes our words to the effect that even before the November Revolution, we clearly realized the defects in education of the Russian proletariat, but, recognizing the inevitability of the transference of power to the working class, we considered ourselves justified in hoping that during the struggle itself, during its experience, and with the ever increasing support of the proletariat of other countries, we should deal adequately with our difficulties, and be able to guarantee the transition of Russia to the Socialist order. In this connection, Kautsky asks: "Would Trotsky undertake to get on a locomotive and set it going, in the conviction that he would during the journey have time to learn and to arrange everything? One must preliminarily have acquired the qualities necessary to drive a locomotive before deciding to set it going. Similarly the proletariat ought beforehand to have acquired those necessary qualities which make it capable of administering industry, once it had to take it over." (Page 173)

     This instructive comparison would have done honor to any village clergyman. None the less, it is stupid. With infinitely more foundation one could say "Will Kautsky dare to mount a horse before he has learned to sit firmly in the saddle, and to guide the animal in all its steps?" We have foundations for believing that Kautsky would not make up his mind to such a dangerous purely Bolshevik experiment. On the other hand, we fear that, through not risking to mount the horse, Kautsky would have considerable difficulty in learning the secrets of riding on horseback. For the fundamental Bolshevik prejudice is precisely this: that one learns to ride on horseback only when sitting on the horse.

     Concerning the driving of the locomotive, this principle is at first sight not so evident; but none the less it is there. No one yet has learned to drive a locomotive sitting in his study. One has to get up on to the engine, to take one's stand in the tender, to take into one's hands the regulator, and to turn it. True, the engine allows training maneuvers only under the guidance of an old driver. The horse allows of instructions in the riding school only under the guidance of experienced trainers. But in the sphere of State administration such artificial conditions cannot be created. The bourgeoisie does not build for the proletariat academies of State administration, and does not place at its disposal, for preliminary practice, the helm of the State. And besides, the workers and peasants learn even to ride on horse-back not in the riding school, and without the assistance of trainers.

     To this we must add another consideration, perhaps the most important. No one gives the proletariat the opportunity of choosing whether it will or will not mount the horse, whether it will take power immediately or postpone the moment. Under certain conditions the working class is bound to take power, under the threat of political self-annihilation for a whole historical period.

     Once having taken power, it is impossible to accept one set of consequences at will and refuse to accept others. If the capitalist bourgeoisie consciously and malignantly transforms the disorganization of production into a method of political struggle, with the object of restoring power to itself, the proletariat is obliged to resort to Socialization, independent of whether this is beneficial or otherwise at the given moment.

     And, once having taken over production, the proletariat is obliged, under the pressure of iron necessity, to learn by its own experience a most difficult art-that of organizing Socialist economy. Having mounted the saddle, the rider is obliged to guide the horse-on the peril of breaking his neck.

....In the form of the all-embracing class organization of the Soviets, the movement takes itself "as a whole." Hence it is clear why the Communists could and had to become the guiding party in the Soviets. But hence also is seen all the narrowness of the estimate of Soviets as "substitutes for the party" (Kautsky), and all the stupidity of the attempt to include the Soviets, in the form of an auxiliary lever, in the mechanism of bourgeois democracy. (Hilferding)

     The Soviets are the organization of the proletarian revolution, and have purpose either as an organ of the struggle for power or as the apparatus of power of the working class.

     Unable to grasp the revolutionary role of the Soviets, Kautsky sees their root defects in that which constitutes their greatest merit. "The demarcation of the bourgeois from the worker," he writes, "can never be actually drawn. There will always be something arbitrary in such demarcation, which fact transforms the Soviet idea into a particularly suitable foundation for dictatorial and arbitrary rule, but renders it unfitted for the creation of a clear, systematically built-up constitution." (Page 170)

     Class dictatorship, according to Kautsky, cannot create for itself institutions answering to its nature, because there do not exist lines of demarcation between the classes. But in that case, what happens to the class struggle altogether? Surely it was just, in the existence of numerous transitional stages between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, that the lower middle-class theoreticians always found their principal argument against the "principle" of the class struggle? For Kautsky, however, doubts as to principle begin just at the point where the proletariat, having overcome the shapelessness and unsteadiness of the intermediate class, having brought one part of them over to its side and thrown the remainder into the camp of the bourgeoisie, has actually organized its dictatorship in the Soviet Constitution.

     The very reason why the Soviets are absolutely irreplaceable apparatus in the proletarian State is that their framework is elastic and yielding, with the result that not only social but political changes in the relationship of classes and sections can immediately find their expression in the Soviet apparatus. Beginning with the largest factories and works, the Soviets then draw into their organization the workers of private workshops and shop-assistants, proceed to enter the village, organize the peasants against the landowners, and finally the lower and middle-class sections of the peasantry against the richest.

....The scheme of the political situation on a world scale is quite clear. The bourgeoisie, which has brought the nations, exhausted and bleeding to death, to the brink of destruction – particularly the victorious bourgeoisie – has displayed its complete inability to bring them out of their terrible situation, and, thereby, its incompatibility with the future development of humanity. All the intermediate political groups, including here first and foremost the social-patriotic parties, are rotting alive. The proletariat they have deceived is turning against them more and more every day, and is becoming strengthened in its revolutionary convictions as the only power that can save the peoples from savagery and destruction. However, history has not at all secured, just at this moment, a formal parliamentary majority on the side of the party of the social revolution. In other words, history has not transformed the nation into a debating society solemnly voting the transition to the social revolution by a majority of votes. On the contrary, the violent revolution has become a necessity precisely because the imminent requirements of history are helpless to find a road through the apparatus of parliamentary democracy. The capitalist bourgeois calculates: "while, I have in my hands lands, factories, workshops, banks; while I possess newspapers, universities, schools; while – and this most important of all – I retain control of the army: the apparatus of democracy, however, you reconstruct it, will remain obedient to my will. I subordinate to my interests spiritually the stupid, conservative, characterless lower middle class, just as it is subjected to me materially. I oppress, and will oppress, its imagination by the gigantic scale of my buildings, my transactions, my plans, and my crimes. For moments when it is dissatisfied and murmurs, I have created scores of safety-valves and lightning-conductors. At the right moment I will bring into existence opposition parties, which will disappear to-morrow, but which to-day accomplish their mission by affording the possibility of the lower middle class expressing their indignation without hurt therefrom for capitalism. I shall hold the masses of the people, under cover of compulsory general education, on the verge of complete ignorance, giving them no opportunity of rising above the level which my experts in spiritual slavery consider safe. I will corrupt, deceive, and terrorize the more privileged or the more backward of the proletariat itself. By means of these measures I shall not allow the vanguard of the working class to gain the ear of the majority of the working class, while the necessary weapons of mastery and terrorism remain in my hands."

To this the revolutionary proletarian replies: "Consequently, the first condition of salvation is to tear the weapons of domination out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. It is hopeless to think of a peaceful arrival to power while the bourgeoisie retains in its hands all the apparatus of power. Three times over hopeless is the idea of coming to power by the path which the bourgeoisie itself indicates and, at the same time, barricades – the path of parliamentary democracy. There is only one way: to seize power, taking away from the bourgeoisie the material apparatus of government. Independently of the superficial balance of forces in parliament, I shall take over for social administration the chief forces and resources of production. I shall free the mind of the lower middle class from their capitalist hypnosis. I shall show them in practice what is the meaning of Socialist production. Then even the most backward, the most ignorant, or most terrorized sections of the nation will support me, and willingly and intelligently will join in the work of social construction."

When the Russian Soviet Government dissolved the Constituent Assembly, that fact seemed to the leading Social-Democrats of Western Europe, if not the beginning of the end of the world, at all events a rude and arbitrary break with all the previous developments of Socialism. In reality, it was only the inevitable outcome of the new position resulting from imperialism and the war. If Russian Communism was the first to enter the path of casting up theoretical and practical accounts, this was due to the same historical reasons which forced the Russian proletariat to be the first to enter the path of the struggle for power.

All that has happened since then in Europe bears witness to the fact that we drew the right conclusion. To imagine that democracy can be restored in its general purity means that one is living in a pitiful, reactionary utopia.

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