Draft (or Theses) of the RCP’s Reply to the Letter of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany

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Author(s) Lenin
Written March 1920

First Published: BPublished according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 337-344

The theses were written by Lenin in reply to the proposal of the to start negotiations on the terms of their joining the Communist International. On January 20, 1920, Lenin’s theses were discussed at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CC, RCP(b) which decided to accept them as a basis and set up a commission with Lenin as a member for the final editing of the reply and its presentation in the form of a letter.

Having at last received an official proposal from the Independents (German) to conduct negotiations we, as a party, must now answer them with complete frankness, without the diplomacy that is, to a certain extent, oblig-atory for the Communist International.

The answer must be such as will explain the issue to the masses of workers who sympathise with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet system—workers that not only in Germany, but also in France and Britain and a number of other countries, are being deceived (deliberately and unwittingly, i.e., by force of self-deception) by leaders who in words alone subscribe to the slogans that are popular among the workers (dictatorship of the proletariat and So-viet power) but are actually conducting their work, propa-ganda, agitation, etc., in the old way, not in the spirit of these slogans but in a spirit that contradicts these slogans.

The following is a rough draft of the theses for this answer (from the RCP to the German Independent Social-Democratic Party):

(the sequence of the points must also be changed)

1. The dictatorship of the proletariat implies the ability, readiness and determination to attract to our side (to the side of the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat) the entire mass of working and exploited people by means of revolutionary measures, by expropriating the exploiters.

There is nothing of this in the day-to-day agitation of the German Independents (in Freiheit,[1] for instance). Nor do the Longuetists have anything of it.

2. In particular, such agitation is especially necessary for rural proletarians and semi-proletarians and also for small peasants (peasants who do not employ hired labour even at the height of the harvest, etc., peasants who sell lit-tle or no grain). These sections of the population must have explained to them daily, popularly, with extreme simplic-ity and concreteness that when the proletariat has seized state power, it will give them an immediate improvement in their conditions by expropriating the landowners. It will deliver them from the yoke of the big landowners, will hand over big estates to them in their entirety, will free them from debt, etc., etc. The same applies to the urban non-proletarian, or not fully proletarian, mass of working people.

The German Independents (like the Longuetists) do not carry on such agitation.

3. The Soviet system is the destruction of that bourgeois falsehood known as “freedom of the press”--—i.e., freedom to bribe the press, freedom for the rich, the capitalists, to buy up newspapers, freedom for the capitalists to buy up hundreds of newspapers and in this way fabricate the so-called public opinion.

The German Independents (when speaking of them it is always to be understood that the Longuetists, the British Independents, etc., etc., are included) do not admit this truth, do not spread it, do not agitate daily for the abolition by revolutionary means of the enslavement by capital of the press which bourgeois democrats falsely call freedom of the press.

The Independents do not carry on any such agitation and recognise Soviet power by way of lip-service alone (Lippen-bekenntniss); in actual fact they are fully weighed down by the prejudices of bourgeois democracy.

They cannot explain the main, thing, the expropriation of the printing works and warehouses and the supplies of paper, because they do not understand it.

4. The same applies to freedom of assembly (which is a falsehood as long as the rich own the best buildings and buy up public buildings), to “arming of the people”, to freedom of conscience (=freedom for capital to bay or bribe whole church organisations for the purpose of doping the masses with the opium of religion), and to all other bour-geois-democratic liberties.

5. The dictatorship of the proletariat means the over-throw of the bourgeoisie by a single class, the proletariat, and by its revolutionary vanguard at that. To demand that this vanguard should first ensure the support of the majori-ty of the people through elections to bourgeois parliament, bourgeois constituent assemblies, etc., i.e., by elections held while wage-slavery stilt exists, while the exploiters exist and exercise their oppression, and while the means of production are privately owned—to demand this or to assume it is actually abandoning the standpoint of the dic-tatorship of the proletariat and going over to the standpoint of bourgeois democracy.

That is how the German Independents and the French Longuetists act. These parties’ repetition of the petty-bour-geois democrats’ phrases about the majority of the “people” (deceived by the bourgeoisie and crushed by capital) places them objectively on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.

6. The dictatorship of the proletariat implies and sig-nifies a clear concept of the truth that the proletariat, because of its objective economic position in every capital-ist society, correctly expresses the interests of the entire mass of working and exploited people, all semi-proletarians (i.e., those who live partly by the sale of their labour-power), all small peasants and similar categories.

These sections do not follow the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties (including the “socialist” parties of the Second International) by the free expression of their will (as petty-bourgeois democrats assume) but because they are directly deceived by the bourgeoisie, because of pressure by capital and because of the self-deception of the petty-bourgeois leaders.

The proletariat will attract these sections of the popula-tion (semi-proletarians and small peasants) to its side, and can attract them to its side, only after it has achieved a victory, only after it has won state power, that is, after the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie, and emancipated all working people from the yoke of capital and shown them in practice the benefits (the benefits of freedom from the exploiters) accruing from proletarian state power.

This is the concept that constitutes the basis and essence of the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat; the German Independents and French Longuetists do not understand it, do not spread it among the masses and do not propagan-dise it daily.

7. The dictatorship of the proletariat implies a recognition of the necessity to suppress the resistance of the exploiters by force, and the readiness, ability and determina-tion to do it. The bourgeoisie, even the most republican and democratic bourgeoisie (for instance, in Germany, Switz-erland and the U.S.A.), have regular recourse to pogroms, lynching, assassination, armed violence and terror against Communists and actually against all revolutionary steps taken by the proletariat; to reject force or terror under such circumstances is tantamount to turning into a snivelling petty bourgeois, to spreading reactionary petty-bourgeois illusions about social peace and, to put it concretely, is tantamount to fear of the belligerent army officer.

The most criminal and most reactionary imperialist war of 1914-18 trained many tens of thousands of reactionary officers and pushed them into the forefront of politics in all countries, even the most democratic republics; these offic-ers prepare and effect acts of terror for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, for the benefit of capital against the proletariat.

The attitude to terror displayed by the German Independ-ents and the French Longuetists in their parliamentary speeches, in newspaper articles and in all their propaganda and agitation is nothing less than the complete rejection of the real dictatorship of the proletariat, is an actual change-over to the position of the petty-bourgeois democrat and is corrupting the revolutionary consciousness of the workers.

8. The same is true of civil war. Following the imperial-ist war, when we are confronted with reactionary generals and officers who employ terror against the proletariat, when we are confronted with the fact that the present policy of all bourgeois states is the preparation of fresh imperialist wars—wars are not only being deliberately prepared but are objectively inevitable as a result of all their politics-under these conditions, in such circumstances to bemoan a civil war against the exploiters, to condemn it and to fear it is tantamount to becoming a reactionary.

It means fearing the victory of the workers that may possibly cost tons of thousands of lives and allowing for certain another imperialist bloodbath that yesterday cost millions of lives and will tomorrow cost millions more.

It means giving real encouragement to the reactionary and rapacious tendencies, schemes and preparations of the bourgeois generals and officers.

Such is the reactionary nature of the sugary, petty-bour-geois, sentimental position of the German Independents and the French Longuetists in the question of the civil war. They close their eyes to the intrigues of the White Guard and to its training and formation by the bourgeoisie and hypo-critically, pharisaically (or cowardly) turn their backs on work to create a Red Guard, a proletarian Red Army that is capable of crushing the resistance of the exploiters.

9. The dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power imply a clear notion of the need to break, to smash to smith-ereens the bourgeois (even if it is republican-democratic) state machinery, the courts, the bureaucracy, both civil and military, etc.

The German Independents and the French Longuetists do not display any consciousness of this truth, nor do they carry on day-to-day agitation on behalf of it. Worse even-they conduct all their agitation in the contrary spirit.

10. Every revolution (as distinguished from a reform) by its very nature implies a crisis, and a very deep crisis at that, both political and economic. This is irrespective of the crisis brought about by the war.

It is the task of the revolutionary party of the proletar-iat to explain to the workers and peasants that they must have the courage to meet this crisis boldly and rind in revo-lutionary measures a source of strength with which to over-come the crisis. Only by surmounting the greatest crises with revolutionary enthusiasm, with revolutionary energy, with revolutionary preparedness to make the greatest sac-rifices, can the proletariat defeat the exploiters and liberate mankind entirely from wars, the oppression of cap-ital and wage-slavery.

There is no other way, because the reformist attitude to capitalism yesterday engendered the imperialist bloodbath (and will certainly do the same tomorrow) involving millions of people and endless crises.

This is the main idea without which the dictatorship of the proletariat is an empty phrase; the Independents and the Longuetists do not understand it and do not include it in their agitation and propaganda, do not explain it to the masses.

11. The Independents and the Longuetists do not develop and do not make more profound the consciousness of the masses that the reformism that factually dominated in the Second International (1889-1914) and destroyed it was decadent and ruinous; on the contrary they dull that conscious-ness, they hide the disease and do not reveal it, do not expose it.

12. On leaving the Second International and condemning it verbally (in Crispien’s pamphlet, for instance) the Independents actually held out a hand to Friedrich Adler, a mem-ber of the Austrian party of the Noskes and Scheidemanns.

The Independents tolerate among their number writers who completely reject the basic concepts of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This divergence of word and deed is typical of the entire policy of the leaders of the Independent Party in Germany and of the Longuetists in France. It is precisely the leaders who share the prejudices of the petty-bourgeois democrats and of the upper stratum of the proletariat that has been corrupted by reformism, contrary to the revolutionary sympathies of the masses of workers who gravitate towards the Soviet system.

13. The Independents and the Longuetists do not under-stand and do not explain to the masses that the imperialist superprofits of the advanced countries enabled them (and still enable them) to bribe the top stratum of the proletariat, to throw them some crumbs from the superprofits (obtained from the colonies and from the financial exploitation of weak countries), to create a privileged section of skilled workers, etc.

Without the exposure of this evil, without a struggle against both the trade union bureaucracy and all manifesta-tions of petty-bourgeois guildism, against the working-class aristocracy, the privileges of the upper stratum of workers, without the ruthless removal from the revolutionary party of those imbued with this spirit, without an appeal to the lower strata, to ever wider sections of the masses, to the real majority of the exploited—without all this there can be no question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

14. This unwillingness or inability to break with the top stratum of workers who are infected with imperialism, is also found among the independents and the Longuetists in their not conducting agitation for the direct, unqualified support for all insurrections and revolutionary movements of colonial peoples.

Under such circumstances the condemnation of colonial policy and of imperialism is either sheer hypocrisy or the empty sighing of a stupid philistine.

15. The Independents and Longuetists do not carry on agitation among the troops (that they join the forces for the purpose of preparing their going over to the side of the workers against the bourgeoisie). They do not create organ-isations for this work.

They do not respond to the violence of the bourgeoisie, to their endless contraventions of “legality” (both during the imperialist war and after it) using for this the regular propaganda of illegal organisations and creating such organisations.

Unless there is a combination of legal and illegal work, of legal and illegal organisations, there can be no question of a truly revolutionary party of the proletariat in Germany, in Switzerland, in Britain, in France or in the U.S.A.

16. By and large, all propaganda and agitation, all organisational work of the Independents and the Longuetists is more petty-bourgeois-democratic than revolutionary-proletarian—it is pacifist and not social-revolutionary.

In view of this the “recognition” of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of Soviet power remains purely verbal.

Summary. In the prevailing situation the RCP deems the only correct solution to be not to unite with the Inde-pendents and the Longuetists in one International, but to bide our time until the revolutionary masses of the French and German workers correct the weakness, errors, preju-dices and inconsistencies of such parties as the Independents and the Longuetists.

In the opinion of the RCP there is no place for such parties in the Communist International.

The RCP, however, does not reject conferences with all parties that desire to confer with it and know its opinion.

  1. Freedom a daily paper, organ of the [1], published in Berlin from November 15, 1918 to September 30, 1922.