by V. I. Lenin
The publication by a small group of “Left Communists” of their journal, Kommunist (No. 1, April 20, 1918), and of their “theses”, strikingly confirms my views expressed in the pamphlet The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. There could not be better confirmation, in political literature, of the utter naïvete of the defence of petty-bourgeois sloppiness that is sometimes concealed by “Left” slogans. It is useful and necessary to deal with the arguments of “Left Communists” because they are characteristic of the period we are passing through. They show up with exceptional clarity the negative side of the “core” of this period. They are instructive, because the people we are dealing with are the best of those who have failed to understand the present period, people who by their knowledge and loyalty stand far, far above the ordinary representatives of the same mistaken views, namely, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.
As a political magnitude, or as a group claiming to play a political role, the “Left Communist” group has presented its “Theses on the Present Situation”. It is a good Marxist custom to give a coherent and complete exposition of the principles underlying one’s views and tactics. And this good Marxist custom has helped to reveal the mistake committed by our “Lefts”, because the mere attempt to argue and not to declaim exposes the unsoundness of their argument.
The first thing that strikes one is the abundance of allusions, hints and evasions with regard to the old question of whether it was right to conclude the Brest Treaty. The “Lefts” dare not put the question in a straightforward manner. They flounder about in a comical fashion, pile argument on argument, fish for reasons, plead that “on the one hand” it may be so, but “on the other hand” it may not, their thoughts wander over all and sundry subjects, they try all the time not to see that they are defeating themselves. The “Lefts” are very careful to quote the figures: twelve votes at the Party Congress against peace, twenty-eight votes in favour, but they discreetly refrain from mentioning that of the hundreds of votes cast at the meeting of the Bolshevik group of the Congress of Soviets they obtained less than one-tenth. They have invented a “theory” that the peace was carried by “the exhausted and declassed elements”, while it was opposed by “the workers and peasants of the southern regions, where there was greater vitality in economic life and the supply of bread was more assured”. . . . Can one do anything but laugh at this? There is not a word about the voting at the All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets in favour of peace, nor about the social and class character of the typically petty-bourgeois and declassed political conglomeration in Russia who were opposed to peace (the Left Socialist-Revolutionary party). In an utterly childish manner, by means of amusing “scientific” explanations, they try to conceal their own bankruptcy, to conceal the facts, the mere review of which would show that it was precisely the declassed, intellectual “cream” of the party, the elite, who opposed the peace with slogans couched in revolutionary petty-bourgeois phrases, that it was precisely the mass of workers and exploited peasants who carried the peace.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the above-mentioned declarations and evasions of the “Lefts” on the question of war and peace, the plain and obvious truth manages to come to light. The authors of the theses are compelled to admit that “the conclusion of peace has for the time being weakened the imperialists’ attempts to make a deal on a world scale” (this is inaccurately formulated by the “Lefts”, but this is not the place to deal with inaccuracies). “The conclusion of peace has already caused the conflict between the imperialist powers to become more acute.”
Now this is a fact. Here is something that has decisive significance. That is why those who opposed the conclusion of peace were unwittingly playthings in the hands of the imperialists and fell into the trap laid for them by the imperialists. For, until the world socialist revolution breaks out, until it embraces several countries and is strong enough to overcome international imperialism, it is the direct duty of the socialists who have conquered in one country (especially a backward one) not to accept battle against the giants of imperialism. Their duty is to try to avoid battle, to wait until the conflicts between the imperialists weaken them even more, and bring the revolution in other countries even nearer. Our “Lefts” did not understand this simple truth in January, February and March. Even now they are afraid of admitting it openly. But it comes to light through all their confused reasoning like “on the one hand it must be confessed, on the other hand one must admit”.
“During the coming spring and summer,” the “Lefts” write in their theses, “the collapse of the imperialist system must begin. In the event of a victory for German imperialism in the present phase of the war this collapse can only be postponed, but it will then express itself in even more acute forms.”
This formulation is even more childishly inaccurate despite its playing at science. It is natural for children to “understand” science to mean something that can determine in what year, spring, summer, autumn or winter the “collapse must begin”.
These are ridiculous, vain attempts to ascertain what cannot be ascertained. No serious politician will ever say when this or that collapse of a “system” “must begin” (the more so that the collapse of the system has already begun, and it is now a question of the moment when the outbreak of revolution in particular countries will begin). But an indisputable truth forces its way through this childishly helpless formulation, namely, the outbreaks of revolution in other, more advanced, countries are nearer now, a month since the beginning of the “respite” which followed the conclusion of peace, than they were a month or six weeks ago.
It follows that the peace supporters were absolutely right, and their stand has been justified by the course of events. They were right in having drummed into the minds of the lovers of ostentation that one must be able to calculate the balance of forces and not help the imperialists by making the battle against socialism easier for them when socialism is still weak, and when the chances of the battle are manifestly against socialism.
Our “Left” Communists, however, who are also fond of calling themselves “proletarian” Communists, because there is very little that is proletarian about them and very much that is petty-bourgeois, are incapable of giving thought to the balance of forces, to calculating it. This is the core of Marxism and Marxist tactics, but they disdainfully brush aside the “core” with “proud” phrases such as:
“. . . That the masses have become firmly imbued with an inactive ‘peace mentality’ is an objective fact of the political situation. . . .”
What a gem! After three years of the most agonising and reactionary war, the people, thanks to Soviet power and its correct tactics, which never lapsed into mere phrase-making, have obtained a very, very brief, insecure and far from sufficient respite. The “Left” intellectual striplings, however, with the magnificence of a self-infatuated Narcissus, profoundly declare “that the masses [???] have become firmly imbued [!!!] with an inactive [!!!???] peace mentality”. Was I not right when I said at the Party Congress that the paper or journal of the “Lefts” ought to have been called not Kommunist but Szlachcic. [Szlachcic—a Polish nobleman —Ed.]
Can a Communist with the slightest understanding of the mentality and the conditions of life of the toiling and exploited people descend to the point of view of the typical declassed petty-bourgeois intellectual with the mental outlook of a noble or szlachcic, which declares that a “peace mentality” is “inactive” and believes that the brandishing of a cardboard sword is “activity”? For our “Lefts” merely brandish a cardboard sword when they ignore the universally known fact, of which the war in the Ukraine has served as an additional proof, that peoples utterly exhausted by three years of butchery cannot go on fighting without a respite; and that war, if it cannot be organised on a national scale, very often creates a mentality of disintegration peculiar to petty proprietors, instead of the iron discipline of the proletariat. Every page of Kommunist shows that our “Lefts” have no idea of iron proletarian discipline and how it is achieved, that they are thoroughly imbued with the mentality of the declassed petty-bourgeois intellectual.
(Parts II – V continued at Marxists Internet Archive)