On Compromises (March-April, 1920)

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The document. “On Compromises” is the beginning of an article which was not finished. The ideas set forth in this document were elucidated in greater detail by Lenin in his book “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder.

The talk with the pacifist Lansbury, ono of the leaders of the British Labour Party, took place in the Kremlin, February 21, 1920.

In a talk with me, Comrade Lansbury laid particular stress on the following argument of the British opportunist leaders in the labour movement.

The Bolsheviks are compromising with the capitalists, agreeing, in the Peace Treaty with Estonia, for instance, to timber concessions; if that is the case, compromises with capitalists concluded by the moderate leaders of the British labour movement are equally legitimate.

Comrade Lansbury considers this argument, very widespread in Britain, of importance to the workers and urgently requiring examination.

I shall try to meet this desire.

May an advocate of proletarian revolution conclude compromises with capitalists or with the capitalist class?

This, apparently, is the question underlying the above argument. But to present it in this general way shows either the extreme political inexperience and low level of political consciousness of the questioner, or his chicanery in using a sophism to veil his justification of brigandage, plunder and every other sort of capitalist violence.

Indeed, it would obviously be silly to give a negative reply to this general question. Of course, an advocate of proletarian revolution may conclude compromises or agreements with capitalists. It all depends on what kind of agreement is concluded and under what circumstances. Here and here alone can and must one look for the difference between an agreement that is legitimate from the angle of the proletarian revolution and one that is treasonable, treacherous (from the same angle).

To make this clear I shall first recall the argument of the. founders of Marxism and then add some very simple and obvious examples.

It is not. for nothing that Marx and Engels are considered the founders of scientific socialism. They were ruthless enemies of all phrase-mongering. They taught that problems of socialism (including problems of socialist tactics) must be presented scientifically. In the seventies of last century, when Engels analysed the revolutionary manifesto of the French Blanquists, Commune fugitives, he told them in plain terms that their boastful declaration of "no compromise" was an empty phrase.[1] The idea of compromises must not he renounced. The point is through all the compromises which are sometimes necessarily imposed by force of circumstance upon even the most revolutionary party of even the most revolutionary class, to be able to preserve, strengthen, steel and develop the revolutionary tactics and organisation, the revolutionary consciousness, determination and preparedness of the working class and its organised vanguard, the Communist Party.

Anybody acquainted with. the fundamentals of Marx's teachings must inevitably draw this conclusion from the totality of those teachings. But since in Britain, due to a number of historical causes, Marxism has ever since Chartism" (which in many respects was something preparatory to Marxism, the "last word but one" before Marxism) been pushed into the background by the opportunist, semi-bourgeois leaders of the trade unions and co-operatives, I shall try to explain the truth of the view expounded by means of typical examples drawn from among the universally known facts of ordinary, political, and economic life.

I shall begin with an illustration I gave once before in one of my speeches. Let us suppose the car you are travelling in is attacked by armed bandits. Let us suppose that when a pistol is put to your temple you surrender your car, money and revolver to the bandits, who proceed to use this car, etc., to commit other robberies.

Here is undoubtedly a case of compromising with highwaymen, of agreement with them. The agreement., though unsigned and tacitly concluded, is nevertheless quite a definite and precise one: "I give you, Mr. Robber, my car, weapon and money; you rid me of your pleasant company."

The question arises: do you call the man who concluded such an agreement with highwaymen an accomplice in banditry, an accomplice in a robbers' assault upon third persons despoiled by the bandits with the aid of the car, money and weapon received by them from the person who concluded this agreement?

No, you do not.

The matter is absolutely plain and simple, down to the smallest detail.

And it is likewise clear that under other circumstances the tacit surrender to the highwaymen of the car, money and weapon would be considered by every person of common sense to be complicity in banditry.

The conclusion is clear: it is just as silly to renounce the idea of literally all agreements or compromises with robbers as it is to acquit a person of complicity in banditry on the basis of the abstract proposition that, generally speaking, agreements with robbers are sometimes permissible and necessary.

Let us now take a political illustration ....

  1. ↑ See Engels, “Programm des blahquistischen Kommuneflflühtlinge”, Marx/Engels, Werke, Band 18, 5. 532. Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1958.