First Congress of the Communist International
|Written||2 March 1919|
First Published: (see details at the end of each section); 1920 (in full)
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Volume 28 (p. 455-477)
Speech at the Opening Session of the Congress[edit source]
First published in 1920, in German, in the book “Der I. Kongress der Kommunistischen Internationale. Protokoll” in Petrograd.
First published in Russian in 1921 in the book “First Congress of the Communist International. Minutes” in Petrograd.
On behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party I declare the First Congress of the Communist International open. First I would ask all present to rise in tribute to the finest representatives of the Third International: Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. ( All rise .)
Comrades, our gathering has great historic significance. It testifies to the collapse of all the illusions cherished by bourgeois democrats. Not only in Russia, but in the most developed capitalist countries of Europe, in Germany for example, civil war is a fact.
The bourgeois are terror-stricken at the growing workers’ revolutionary movement. This is understandable if we take into account that the development of events since the imperialist war inevitably favors the workers’ revolutionary movement, and that the world revolution is beginning and growing in intensity everywhere.
The people are aware of the greatness and significance of the struggle now going on. All that is needed is to find the practical form to enable the proletariat to establish its rule. Such a form is the Soviet system with the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dictatorship of the proletariat—until now these words were Latin to the masses. Thanks to the spread of the Soviets throughout the world this Latin has been translated into all modern languages; a practical form of dictatorship has been found by the working people. The mass of workers now understand it thanks to Soviet power in Russia, thanks to the Spartacus League in Germany and to similar organizations in other countries, such as, for example, the Shop Stewards Committees in Britain. All this shows that a revolutionary form of the dictatorship of the proletariat has been found, that the proletariat is now able to exercise its rule.
Comrades, I think that after the events in Russia and the January struggle in Germany, it is especially important to note that in other countries, too, the latest form of the workers’ movement is asserting itself and getting the upper hand. Today, for example, I read in an anti-socialist newspaper a report to the effect that the British government had received a deputation from the Birmingham Workers’ Counsel and had expressed its readiness to recognize the Councils as economic bodies. The Soviet system has triumphed not only in backward Russia, but also in the most developed country of Europe—in Germany, and in Britain, the oldest capitalist country.
Even though the bourgeoisie are still raging, even though they may kill thousands more workers, victory will be ours, the victory of the worldwide Communist revolution is assured.
Comrades, I extend hearty greetings to you on behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. I move that we elect a presidium. Let us have nominations.
Thesis and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat[edit source]
Thesis published March 6, 1919 in Pravda No. 51; report first published in 1920 in the German and in 1921 in the Russian additions of the minutes of the First Congress of the Communist International.
1. Faced with the growth of the revolutionary workers’ movement in every country, the bourgeoisie and their agents in the workers’ organizations are making desperate attempts to find ideological and political arguments in defense of the rule of the exploiters. Condemnation of dictatorship and a sense of democracy are particularly prominent among these arguments. The falsity and hypocrisy of this argument, repeated in a thousand strains by the capitalist press and at the Berne yellow International Conference in February 1919, are obvious to all who refuse to betray the fundamental principles of socialism.
2. Firstly, this argument employs the concepts of “democracy in general” and “dictatorship in general “, without posing the question of the class concerned. This nonclass or above class presentation, which supposedly is popular, is an outright travesty of the basic tenet of socialism, namely, its theory of class struggle, which Socialists who have sided with the bourgeoisie recognize in words but disregard in practice. For in no civilized capitalist country does “democracy in general” exist; all that exists is bourgeois democracy, and it is not a question of “dictatorship in general", but of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, i.e., the proletariat, over its oppressors and exploiters, i.e., the bourgeoisie, in order to overcome the resistance offered by the exploiters in their fight to maintain their domination.
3. History teaches us that no oppressed class ever did, or could, achieve power without going through a period of dictatorship, i.e., the conquest of political power and forceable suppression of the resistance always offered by the exploiters—the resistance that is most desperate, most furious, and that stops at nothing. The bourgeoisie, whose domination is now defended by the Socialists who denounce “dictatorship in general” and extol “democracy in general", won power in the advanced countries through a series of insurrections, civil wars, and the forcible suppression of kings, feudal lords, slaveowners and their attempts at restoration. In books, pamphlets, Congress resolutions, and propaganda speeches, Socialists have everywhere thousands and millions of times explained to people the class nature of these bourgeois revolutions and this bourgeois dictatorship. That is why the present defense of bourgeois democracy under the cover of talk about “democracy in general", and the present howls and shouts against proletarian dictatorship under the cover of shouts about “dictatorship in general", are an outright betrayal of socialism. They are, in fact, desertion to the bourgeoisie, denial of the proletariat’s right to its own, proletarian revolution, and a defense of bourgeois reformism at the very historical juncture when bourgeois reformism throughout the world has collapsed and the war has created a revolutionary situation.
4. In explaining the class nature of bourgeois civilization, bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois parliamentary system, all Socialists have expressed the idea formulated with the greatest scientific precision by Marx and Engels, namely, that the most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie, for the suppression of the working people by a handful of capitalists. There is not a single revolutionary, not a single Marxist among those now shouting against dictatorship and for democracy, who has not sworn and vowed to the workers that he excepts this basic truth of socialism. But now, when the revolutionary proletariat is in a fighting mood and taking action to destroy this machine of oppression and to establish proletarian dictatorship, these traitors to socialism claim that the bourgeoisie have granted the working people “pure democracy", have abandoned resistance and are prepared to yield to the majority of the working people. They assert that in a democratic republic there is not, and never has been, any such thing as a state machine for the suppression of labor by capital.
5. The Paris Commune—to which all who parade as Socialists pay lip service (for they know that the workers ardently and sincerely sympathize with though Commune) —showed very clearly the historically conventional nature and limited value of the bourgeois parliamentary system and bourgeois democracy; institutions which, though highly progressive compared with medieval times, inevitably require a radical alteration in the era of proletarian revolution. It was Marx who best appraised the historical significance of the Commune. In his analysis, he revealed the exploiting nature of bourgeois democracy in the bourgeois parliamentary system under which the oppressed classes enjoy the right to decide once in several years which representative of the propertied classes shall “represent and suppress” ( ver- und zertreten ) the people in parliament. And it is now, when the Soviet movement is embracing the entire world and continuing the work of the Commune for all to see, that the traitors to socialism are forgetting the concrete experience and concrete lessons of the Paris Commune and repeating the old bourgeois rubbish about “democracy in general”. The Commune was not a parliamentary institution.
6. The significance of the commune, furthermore, lies in the fact that it endeavored to crush, to smash to its very foundations, the bourgeois state apparatus, the bureaucratic, judicial, military and police machine, and to replace it by a self-governing, mass workers’ organization in which there was no division between legislative and executive power. All contemporary bourgeois-democratic republic’s, including the German republic—which the traitors to socialism, in mockery of the truth, describe as a proletarian republic—retain this state apparatus. We therefore again get quite clear confirmation of the point that shouting in defense of “democracy in general” is actually defense of the bourgeoisie and their privileges as exploiters.
7. “Freedom of assembly” can be taken as a sample of the requisites of “pure democracy”. Every class conscience worker who has not broken with his class will readily appreciate the absurdity of promising freedom of assembly to the exploiters at a time and in a situation when the exploiters are resisting the overthrow of their rule and are fighting to retain their privileges. When the bourgeoisie were revolutionary, they did not, neither in England in 1649 nor in France in 1793, grant “freedom of assembly” to the monarchists and nobles, who summoned foreign troops and “assembled” to organize attempts at restoration. If the present day bourgeoisie, who have long since become reactionary, demand from proletariat advance guarantees of “freedom of assembly” for the exploiters, whatever the resistance offered by the capitalists to being expropriated, the workers will only laugh at their hypocrisy.
The workers know perfectly well, too, that even in the most democratic bourgeois republic “freedom of assembly” is a hollow phrase, for the rich have the best public and private buildings at their disposal, and enough leisure to assemble at meetings, which are protected by the bourgeois machine of power. The rural and urban workers and small peasants—the overwhelming majority of the population—are denied all these things. As long as that state of affairs prevails, “equality", i.e., “pure democracy", is a fraud. The first thing to do to win genuine equality and enable the working people to enjoy democracy in practice is to deprive the exploiters of all the public and sumptuous private buildings, to give to the working people leisure and to see to it that their freedom of assembly is protected by armed workers, not by heirs of the nobility or capitalist officers in command of downtrodden soldiers.
Only when that change is affected can we speak of freedom of assembly and of equality without mocking at the workers, at working people in general, at the poor. And this change can be affected only by the vanguard of the working people, the proletariat, which overthrows the exploiters, the bourgeoisie.
8. “Freedom of the press” is another of the principal slogans of “pure democracy”. And here, too, the workers know — and Socialists everywhere have explained millions of times —that this freedom is a deception because the best printing presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists, and while capitalist rule over the press remains—a rule that is manifested throughout the whole world all the more strikingly, sharply and cynically—the more democracy and the republican system are developed, as in America for example. The first thing to do to win really equality and genuine democracy for the working people, for the workers and peasants, is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying publishing houses and bribing newspapers. And to do that the capitalists and exploiters have to be overthrown and their resistance oppressed. The capitalists have always use the term “freedom” to mean freedom for the rich to get richer and for the workers to starve to death. And capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion. In this respect, too, the defenders of “pure democracy” prove to be defenders of an utterly foul and venal system that gives the rich control over the mass media. They prove to be deceivers of the people, who, with the aid of plausible, fine-sounding, but thoroughly false phrases, divert them from the concrete historical task of liberating the press from capitalist enslavement. Genuine freedom and equality will be embodied in the system which the Communists are building, and in which there will be no opportunity for massing wealth at the expense of others, no objective opportunities for putting the press under the direct or indirect power of money, and no impediments in the way of any workingman (or groups of workingman, in any numbers) for enjoying and practicing equal rights in the use of public printing presses and public stocks of paper.
9. The history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demonstrated, even before the war, what this celebrated “pure democracy” really is under capitalism. Marxists have always maintained that the more developed, the “purer" democracy is, the more naked, acute and merciless the class struggle becomes, and the “purer” the capitalist oppression and bourgeois dictatorship. The Dreyfus case in republican France, the massacre of strikers by hired bands armed by the capitalists in the free and democratic American republic —these and thousands of similar facts illustrate the truth which the bourgeoisie are mainly seeking to conceal, namely, that actually terror and bourgeois dictatorship prevail in the most democratic of republics and are openly displayed every time the exploiters think the power of capital is being shaken.
10. The imperialist war of 1914-18 conclusively revealed even to backward workers the true nature of bourgeois democracy, even in the freest republics, as being a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Tens of millions were killed for the sake of enriching the German or the British group of millionaires and multimillionaires, and bourgeois military dictatorships were established in the freest republics. This military dictatorship continues to exist in the Allied countries even after Germany’s defeat. It was mostly the war that opened the eyes of the working people, that striped bourgeois democracy of its camouflage and showed the people the abyss of speculation and profiteering that existed during because of the war. It was in the name of “freedom and equality” that the bourgeoisie wage the war, in the name of “freedom and equailty” that the munitions manufacturers piled up fabulous fortunes. Nothing that the yellow Berne International does can conceal from the people the now thoroughly exposed exploiting character of bourgeois freedom, bourgeois equality and bourgeois democracy.
11. In Germany, the most developed capitalist country of Continental Europe, the very first months of full Republican freedom, establish as a result of imperialist Germany’s defeat, have shown the German workers and the whole world the true class substance of the bourgeois-democratic republic. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg is an event of epoch-making significance not only because of the tragic death of these finest people and leaders of the truly proletarian, Communist International, but also because the class nature of an advanced European state—it can be said without exaggeration, of an advanced state, on a worldwide scale —has been conclusively exposed. If those arrested, i.e., those placed under state protection, could be assassinated by officers and capitalists with impunity, and this under the government headed by social patriots, in the democratic republic where such a thing was possible is a bourgeois dictatorship. Those who voice their indignation at the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg but fail to understand this fact are only demonstrating their stupidity, or hypocrisy. “Freedom” in the German republic, one of the freest and advanced republics of the world, is freedom to murder arrested leaders of the proletariat with impunity. Nor can it be otherwise as long as capitalism remains, for the development of democracy sharpens rather than dampens the class struggle which, by virtue of all the results and influences of the war and of its consequences, has been brought to boiling point.
Throughout the civilized world we see Bolsheviks being exiled, persecuted and thrown into prison. This is the case, for example, in Switzerland, one of the freest bourgeois republics, and in America, where there has been anti-Bolshevik pogroms, etc. . From the standpoint of “democracy in general", or “pure democracy", it is really ridiculous that advanced, civilized, and democratic countries, which are armed to the teeth, should fear the presence of a few score men from backward, famine stricken and ruined Russia, which the bourgeois papers, in tens of millions of copies, described as savage, criminal, etc.. Clearly, the social situation that could produce this crying contradiction is in fact a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
12. In these circumstances, proletarian dictatorship is not only an absolutely legitimate means of overthrowing exploiters and suppressing the resistance, but also absolutely necessary to the entire mass of working people, being their only defense against the bourgeois dictatorship which led to the war and is preparing new wars.
The main thing that Socialists fail to understand—which constitutes their shortsightedness in matters of theory, their subservience to bourgeois prejudices, and their political betrayal of the proletariat—is that in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary, petty-bourgeois limitations. That is borne out by more than a century of development of bourgeois democracy in the working-class movement in all the advanced countries, and notably by the experience of the past five years. This is also borne out by the whole science of political economy, by the entire content of Marxism, which reveals the economic inevitability, wherever commodity economy prevails, of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that can only be replaced by the class which the very growth of capitalism develops, multiplies, welds together and strengthens; that is, the proletarian class.
13. Another theoretical and political error of the Socialists is their failure to understand that ever since the rudiments of democracy first appeared in antiquity, its forms notably changed over the centuries as one ruling class replaced another. Democracy assumed different forms and was applied in different degrees in the ancient republics of Greece, the medieval cities and the advanced capitalist countries. It would be sheer nonsense to think that the most profound revolution in human history, the first case in the world of power being transferred from the exploiting minority to the exploited majority, could take place within the time-worn framework of the old, bourgeois, parliamentary democracy, without drastic changes, without the creation of new forms of democracy, new institutions that embody the new conditions for applying democracy, etc.
14. Proletarian dictatorship is similar to dictatorship of other classes in that it arises out of the need, as every other dictatorship does, to forcibly suppresses the resistance of the class that is losing its political sway. The fundamental distinction between the dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of the other classes — landlord dictatorship in the Middle Ages and bourgeois dictatorship in all civilized capitalist countries — consists in the fact that the dictatorship of landowners and bourgeoisie was a forcible suppression of the resistance offered by the vast majority of the population, namely, the working people. In contrast, proletarian dictatorship is a forcible suppression of the resistance of the exploiters, i.e., of an insignificant minority the population, the landlords and capitalists.
It follows that proletarian dictatorship must inevitably entail not only a change in the democratic forms and institutions, generally speaking, but precisely such change as provides an unparalleled extension of the actual enjoyment of democracy by those oppressed by capitalism—the toiling classes.
And indeed, the form of proletarian dictatorship that has already taken shape, i.e., Soviet power in Russia, the Räte-System in Germany, the Shop Stewards Committees in Britain and similar Soviet institutions in other countries, all this implies and presents to the toiling classes, i.e., the vast majority of the population, greater practical opportunities for enjoying democratic rights and liberties than ever existed before, even approximately, in the best and the most democratic bourgeois republics.
The substance of Soviet government is that the permanent and only foundation of state power, the entire machinery of state, is the mass scale organization of the classes oppressed by capitalism, i.e., the workers and semi-proletarians (peasants who do not exploit the labor of others and regularly resort to the sale of at least a part of their own labor power). It is the people, who even in the most democratic bourgeois republics, while possessing equal rights by law, have in fact been debarred by thousands of devices and subterfuges from participation in political life and enjoyment of democratic rights and liberties, that are now drawn into constant and unfailing, moreover, decisive, participation in the democratic administration of the state.
15. The equality of citizens, irrespective of sex, religion, race, or nationality, which bourgeois democracy everywhere has always promised but never affected, and never could affect because of the domination of capital, is given immediate and full effect by the Soviet system, or dictatorship of the proletariat. The fact is that this can only be done by a government of the workers, who are not interested in the means of production being privately owned and in the fight for their division and redivision.
16. The old, i.e., bourgeois, democracy and the parliamentary system were so organized that it was the mass of working people who were kept farthest away from a machinery of government. Soviet power, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the other hand, is so organized as to bring the working people close to the machinery of government. That, too, is the purpose of combining the legislative and executive authority under the Soviet organization of the state and of replacing territorial constituencies by production units—the factory.
17. The Army was a machine of oppression not only under the monarchy. It remains as such in all bourgeois republics, even the most democratic ones. Only the Soviets, the permanent organizations of government authority of the classes that were oppressed by capitalism, are in a position to destroy the Army’s subordination to bourgeois commanders and really merge the proletariat with the Army; only the Soviets can effectively arm the proletariat and disarm the bourgeoisie. Unless this is done, the victory of socialism is impossible.
18. The Soviet organization of the state is suited to the leading role of the proletariat as a class most concentrated and enlightened by capitalism. The experience of all revolutions and all movements of the oppressed classes, the experience of the world Socialist movement teaches us that only the proletariat is in a position to unite and lead the scattered and backward sections of the working and exploited population.
19. Only the Soviet government of the state can really affect the immediate breakup and total destruction of the old, i.e., bourgeois, bureaucratic and judicial machinery, which has been, and has inevitably had to be, retained under capitalism even in the most democratic republics, and which is, in actual fact, the greatest obstacle to the practical implementation of democracy for the workers and working people generally. The Paris Commune took the first epoch making step along this path. The Soviet system has taken the second.
20. Destruction of state power is the aim set by all Socialists, including Marx above all. Genuine democracy, i.e., Liberty and equality, is unrealizable unless this aim is achieved. But it’s practical achievement as possible only through Soviet, or proletarian, democracy, for by enlisting the mass organizations of the working people in constant and unfailing participation in the administration of the state, it immediately begins to prepare the complete withering away of any state.
21. The complete bankruptcy of the Socialists who assembled in Berne, their complete failure to understand the new, i.e., proletarian, democracy, is especially apparent from the following. On February 10, 1919, Branting delivered the concluding speech at the International Conference of the yellow International in Berne. In Berlin, on February 11, 1919, Die Freiheit, the paper of the International’s affiliates, published an appeal from the party of “Independence” to the proletariat. The appeal acknowledged the bourgeois character of the Scheidemann government, rebuked it for wanting to abolish the Soviets, which are described as Träger und Schutzer der Revolution — vehicles and guardians of the revolution—and proposed that the Soviets be legalized, invested with government authority and given the right to suspend the operation of National Assembly decisions pending a popular referendum.
That proposal indicates the complete ideological bankruptcy of the theorists who defend democracy and failed to see its bourgeois character. This ludicrous attempt to combine the Soviet system, i.e., proletarian dictatorship, with the National Assembly, i.e. bourgeois dictatorship, utterly exposes the paucity of thought of the yellow Socialists and Social-Democrats, their reactionary petty-bourgeois political outlook, and their cowardly concessions to the irresistible growing strength of the new, proletarian democracy.
22. From a class standpoint, the Berne yellow International majority, which did not dare to adopt a formal resolution out of fear of the mass of workers, was right in condemning Bolshevism. This majority is in full agreement with the Russian Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, and the Sheidemanns in Germany. In complaining of persecution by the Bolsheviks, the Russian Mensheviks and Socialist revolutionaries try to conceal the fact that they are persecuted for participating in the Civil War on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Similarly, the Sheidemanns and their party have already demonstrated in Germany that they, too, are participating in the Civil War on the side of the bourgeoisie against the workers.
It is therefore quite natural that the Berne yellow International majority should be in favor of condemning the Bolsheviks. This was not an expression of defense of “pure democracy", but of the self defense of people who know and feel that in the Civil War they stand with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
That is why, from the class point of view, the decision of the yellow International majority must be considered correct. The proletariat must not fear the truth, it must face it squarely and draw all the necessary political conclusions.
Comrades, I would like to add a word or two to the last two points. I think that the comrades who are to report to us on the burn Conference will deal with it in greater detail.
Not a word was said at the Berne Conference about the significance of Soviet power. We in Russia have been discussing this question for two years now. At our Party Conference in April 1917, we raised the following question, theoretically and politically: “What is Soviet power, what is its substance and what is its historical significance?” We have been discussing it for almost two years. And at our [Seventh] Party Congress we adopted a resolution on it.
On February 11 the Berlin Die Freiheit published an appeal to the German proletariat signed not only by the leaders of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, but also by all members of the Independent Social Democratic group in the Reichstag. In August 1918, Kautsky, one of the leading theorists of these Independents, wrote a pamphlet entitled The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in which he declared that he was a supporter of democracy and of Soviet bodies, but that the Soviets must be bodies merely of an economic character and that they must not by any means be recognized as state organizations. Kautsky says the same thing in Die Freiheit of November 11 and January 12. On February 9, an article appeared by Rudolf Hilferding, who is also regarded as one of the leading and authoritative theorists of the Second International, in which he proposed that the Soviet system be united with the National Assembly juridically, by state legislation. That was on February 9. On February 11 this proposal was adopted by the whole of the Independent Party and published in the form of an appeal.
There is vacillation again, despite the fact that the National Assembly already exists, even after “pure democracy” has been embodied in reality, after the leading theorists of the Independent Social Democratic Party have declared that the Soviet organizations must not be state organizations! This proves that these gentlemen really understand nothing about the new movement and about its conditions of struggle. But it goes to prove something else, namely, that there must be conditions, causes, for this vacillation! When, after all these events, after nearly two years of victorious revolution in Russia, we are offered resolutions like those adopted at the Berne Conference, which say nothing about the Soviets and their significance, about which not a single delegate uttered a single word, we have a perfect right to say that all these gentlemen are dead to us as Socialists and theorists.
However, comrades, from the practical side, from the political point of view, the fact that these Independents, who in theory and on principle have been opposed to these state organizations, suddenly making the stupid proposal to “peacefully” unite the National Assembly with the Soviet system, i.e., to unite the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat, shows that a great change is taking place among the masses. We see that the Independents are all bankrupt in the Socialist and theoretical sense and that an enormous change is taking place among the masses. The backward masses among the German workers are coming to us, have come to us! So, the significance of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, the best section of the Berne Conference, is nil from the theoretical and Socialist standpoint. Still, it has some significance, which is that these waverers serve as an index to us of the mood of the backward sections of the proletariat. This, in my opinion, is a great historical significance of this Conference. We experienced something of the kind in our own revolution. Our Mensheviks traversed almost exactly the same path as that of the theorists of the Independents in Germany. At first, when they had a majority in the Soviets, they were in favor of the Soviets. All we heard then was: “Long live the Soviets!", “For the Soviets!", “The Soviets are revolutionary democracy!” When, however, we Bolsheviks secured a majority in the Soviets, they changed their tune; they said: the Soviets must not exist side-by-side with the Constituent Assembly. And various Mensheviks theorists made practically the same proposals, like the one to unite the Soviet system with the Constituent Assembly and to incorporate the Soviets into the state structure. Once again it is here revealed that the general course of the proletarian revolution is the same throughout the world. First the spontaneous formation of Soviets, then their spread and development, and then the appearance of the practical problem: Soviets, or National Assembly, or Constituent Assembly, or the bourgeois parliamentary system; utter confusion among the leaders, and finally—the proletarian revolution. But I think we should not present the problem in this way after nearly two years of revolution; we should rather adopt concrete decisions because for us, and particularly for the majority of the West European countries, spreading of the Soviet system is a most important task.
I would like to quote here just one Mensheviks resolution. I asked Comrade Obolensky to translate it into German. He promised to do so but, unfortunately, he is not here. I shall try to render it from memory, as I have not the full text of it with me.
It is very difficult for a foreigner who has not heard anything about Bolshevism to arrive at an independent opinion about our controversial questions. Everything the Bolsheviks assert is challenged by the Mensheviks, and vice versa. Of course, it cannot be otherwise in the middle of the struggle, and that is why it is so important that the last Menshevik Party conference, held in December 1918, adopted the long and detailed resolution published in full in the Menshevik Gazeta Pechatnikov. In this resolution the Mensheviks themselves briefly outline the history of the class struggle and of the Civil War. The resolution states that they condemn those groups in their Party which rallied with the propertied classes in the Urals, in the South, in the Crimea and in Georgia—all these regions are enumerated. Those groups of the Menshevik party which, in alliance with the propertied classes, fought against the Soviets are now condemned in the resolution; but the last point of the resolution also condemns those who joined the Communists. It follows that the Mensheviks were compelled to admit that there was no unity in their party, and that its members were either on the side of the bourgeoisie or on the side of the proletariat. The majority of the Mensheviks went over to the bourgeoisie and fought against us during the Civil War. We, of course, persecute Mensheviks, we even shoot them, when they wage war against us, fight against our Red Army and shoot our Red commanders. We responded to the bourgeois war with the proletarian war—there can be no other way. Therefore, from the political point of view, all this is sheer Menshevik hypocrisy. Historically, it is incomprehensible how people who have not been officially certified as mad could talk at the Berne Conference, on the instructions of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, about the Bolsheviks fighting the latter, yet keep silent about their own struggle, in alliance with the bourgeoisie, against the proletariat.
All of them furiously attack us for persecuting them. This is true. But they do not say a word about the part they themselves have taken in the Civil War! I think that I shall have to provide the full text of the resolution to be recorded in the minutes, and I shall ask the foreign comrades to study it because it is a historical document in which the issue is raised correctly and which provides excellent material for appraising the controversy between the “socialist” trends in Russia. In between the proletariat and bourgeoisie there is another class of people, who incline first this way and then the other. This has always been the case in all revolutions, and it is absolutely impossible in capitalist society, in which the proletariat and bourgeoisie formed to hostile camps, for intermediary sections not to exist between them. The existence of these waverers is historically inevitable, and, unfortunately, these elements, who do not know themselves on whose side they will fight tomorrow, will exist for quite some time.
I want to make the practical proposal that a resolution be adopted in the which three points shall be specifically mentioned.
First: one of the most important tasks confronting the West European comrades is to explain to the people the meaning, importance and necessity of the Soviet system. There is a sort of misunderstanding on this question. Although Kautsky and Hilferding are bankrupt as theorists, their recent articles in Die Freiheit show that they correctly reflect the mood of the backward sections of the German proletariat. The same thing took place in our country: during the first eight months of the Russian Revolution the question of the Soviet organization was very much discussed, and the workers did not understand what the new system was and whether the Soviets could be transformed into a state machine. In our revolution we advanced along the path of practice, and not of theory. For example, formally we did not raise the question of the Constituent Assembly from the theoretical side, and we did not say we did not recognize the Constituent Assembly. It was only later, when the Soviet organizations had spread throughout the country and had captured political power, that we decided to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. Now we see that in Hungary and Switzerland the question is much more acute. On the one hand, this is very good: it gives us the firm conviction that in the West European states the revolution is advancing more quickly and will yield great victories. On the other hand, a danger is concealed in it, namely, that the struggle will be so precipitous that the minds of the mass of workers will not keep pace with this development. Even now the significance of the Soviet system is not clear to a large mass on the politically educated German workers, because they have been trained in the spirit of the parliamentary system and ingrained with bourgeois prejudices.
Second: About the spread of the Soviet system. When we hear how quickly the idea of Soviets is spreading in Germany, and even in Britain, it is very important evidence that the proletarian revolution will be victorious. Its progress can only be retarded for a short time. It is quite another thing, however, when Comrades Albert and Platten tell us that in the rural districts in their countries there are hardly any Soviets among the farm laborers and small peasants. In Die Rote Fahne I read in article opposing peasant Soviets, but quite properly supporting Soviets of farm laborers and of poor peasants. The bourgeoisie and their lackeys, like Sheidemann and company, have already issued the slogan of peasant Soviets. All we need, however, is Soviets of farm laborers and poor peasants. Unfortunately, from the reports of Comrades Albert, Platten and others, we see that, with the exception of Hungary, very little is being done to spread the Soviet system in the countryside. In this, perhaps, lies the real and quite serious danger threatening the achievement of certain victory by the German proletariat. Victory can only be considered assured when not only the German workers, but also the rural proletarians are organized, and organized not as before—in trade unions and cooperative societies — but in Soviets. Our victory was made much easier by the fact that in October 1917 we marched with the peasants, with all the peasants. In that sense, our revolution at that time was a bourgeois revolution. The first step taken by our proletarian government was to embody in a law promulgated on October 26 (old-style), 1917, on the next day after the revolution, the old demands of all the peasants which peasant Soviets and village assemblies had put forward under Kerensky. That is where our strength lay; that is why we were able to win the overwhelming majority so easily. As far as the countryside was concerned, our revolution continued to be a bourgeois revolution, and only later, after a lapse of six months, were we compelled within the framework of the state organization to start the class struggle in the countryside, to establish Committees of Poor Peasants, of semi-proletarians, in every village, and to carry on a methodical fight against the rural bourgeoisie. This was inevitable in Russia owing to the backwardness of the country. In Western Europe things will proceed differently, and that is why we must emphasize the absolute necessity of spreading the Soviet system also to the rural population in proper, perhaps new, forms.
Third: we must say that winning a Communist majority in the Soviets is the principal task in all countries in which Soviet government is not yet victorious. Our Resolutions’ Commission discussed this question yesterday. Perhaps other comrades will express their opinion on it; but I would like to propose that these three points be adopted as a special resolution. Of course, we are not in a position to prescribe the path of development. It is quite likely that the revolution will come very soon in many West-European countries, but we, as the organized section of the working-class, as a party, strive and must strive to gain majority in the Soviets. Then our victory will be assured and no power on Earth will be able to do anything against the Communist revolution. If we do not, victory will not be secured so easily, and it will not be durable. And so, I would like to propose that these three points be adopted as a special resolution.
Resolution to the Thesis on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletarian[edit source]
Pravda No. 54, March 11, 1919 and in the journal Communist International No. 1, May 1, 1919
On the basis of these thesis and the reports made by the delegates from the different countries, the Congress of the Communist International declares that the chief task of the Communist Parties in all countries where Soviet government has not yet been established, is as follows:
1) to explain to the broad mass of the workers the historic significance and the political and historical necessity of the new, proletarian, democracy which must replace bourgeois democracy and the parliamentary system;
2) to extend the organization of Soviets among the workers in all branches of industry, among the soldiers in the Army and the sailors in the Navy and also among farm laborers and poor peasants;
3) to build a stable Communist majority inside the Soviets.
Concluding Speech at the Closing Session of the Congress[edit source]
That we have been able to gather, despite all the persecution and all the difficulties created by the police, that we have been able without any serious differences and in a brief space of time, reach important decisions on all the vitally urgent questions of the contemporary revolutionary epoch, we owe to the fact that the proletarian masses of the whole world, by their action, have brought up these questions in practice and begun to tackle them.
All we have had to do here has been to record the gains already won by the people in the process of their revolutionary struggle.
Not only in the East European but also in the West European countries, not only in the vanquished but also in the victor countries, for example in Britain, the movement in favor of Soviets is spreading farther and farther, and this movement is, most assuredly, a movement pursuing the aim of establishing the new, proletarian democracy. It is the most significant step towards the dictatorship of the proletariat to, towards the complete victory of communism.
No matter how the bourgeoisie of the whole world rage, how much they deport or jail or even kill Spartacists and Bolsheviks—all this will no longer help. It will only serve to enlighten the masses, help rid them of the old bourgeois-democratic prejudices and steel them in the struggle. The victory of the proletarian revolution on a world scale is assured. The founding of an international Soviet republic is on the way. ( Stormy Applause. )
- Most probably, it is not the Birmingham Workers’ Counsel that is meant here, but the shop stewards committee . It is very likely that the newspaper which Lenin read contained incorrect information. Speaking at the First Congress of the Communist International on March 3, 1919, J. Fineberg, a delegate from the British Communist group, said:
“In industrial areas local workers’ committees were formed, including representatives of the shop stewards committees, for instance, the Clyde workers’ committee, London and Sheffield workers’ committees and so on. The committees served as organizational centers and representatives of organized labor and localities. For some time the employers in the government refused to recognize the shop stewards committees, but in the end they had to enter into negotiations with these unregistered committees. That Lloyd George agreed to recognize the Birmingham committee as an economic organization proves the shop stewards committees had become permanent factors in the British movement. In the shop stewards committees, workers’ committees and national conferences of shop stewards committees we have an organization similar to the one forming the basis of the Soviet republic"
- Lenin was among those who were elected to the presidium.
- Engels Introduction to the The Civil War in France
- Lenin refers to Rosa Luxemburg’s article “Der Anfang” ( The Beginning ), published in Die Rote Fahne No. 3, November 18, 1918.