V. Rudnev (V. Bazarov): "July or December?"


Mysl', Khar'kov, No. 5. February 1919

[Translator's note: V Bazarov (Vladimir Aleksandrovich Rudnev, 1874-1939) was a Russian Marxist writer, philosopher, economist and political activist. He had been associated with the revolutionary movement from the mid-1890s, and became a Marxist towards the end of that decade. He was involved with the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party from its early years, and in 1904 took the Bolshevik side in the Bolshevik-Menshevik split. Throughout his political career he was a close associate of A A Bogdanov (Malinovsky, 1873-1928). He was involved with the "empiriocriticist" philosophical trend denounced by Lenin and Plekhanov in the 1900s, but did not sever his connections with the Bolshevik faction of Russian social-democracy until 1917, when Lenin returned from Switzerland and pushed the Bolsheviks onto their more radical path. Thereafter, Bazarov was politically close to the Menshevik-Internationalists headed by Yu O Martov. He was sharply critical of the Bolsheviks' seizure of power, and during the civil war lived in Ukraine and Crimea, where he co-operated with local Menshevik and trade union organisations. In 1921 he was invited by the Soviet government to come to Moscow and work in the economic apparatus, and he was one of the main economists concerned with the development of the methodology of the single economic plan in its earliest years. He was arrested in 1930 in connection with the (largely fabricated) Menshevik trial, but did not appear in the dock. After a year and a half in prison, he was released and subsequently worked as a literary translator. He died, at liberty, of natural causes in Moscow.
Mysl' was a fortnightly journal produced by a group of Mensheviks around Martov in Khar'kov in early 1919. Bazarov was a frequent contributor. The journal lasted for 14 issues before ceasing publication for unknown reasons. This article, written in the aftermath of the suppression of the Spartacist rising in Berlin, takes aim at the official Bolshevik presentation of the suppression as a temporary setback in the inevitable forward march of the revolution. - FK]

The rising of the German communist-Spartacists has been suppressed. Complete calm reigns in Berlin.

The government considers the internal front to have been finally liquidated, and is sending those troops which had been called in to fight the insurgents off to the external, Eastern, front, to fight the Poles. It is true that the movement is far from over in the provinces: here and there protest strikes break out, individual communistically-inclined workers' councils try to prevent the election to the National Assembly, and the Friedrichshafen sailors are in revolt. But this all seems to be the last clouds, the last rolls of thunder of a storm which has blown itself out. "Bolshevism's" first assault in Germany has been beaten back; the moderate-socialist government was able to keep control of the situation.

So what next? Was the Berlin rising the "first swallow" of a triumphant communist revolution, or, on the contrary, was it the "swan song" of the soviet system in Germany? Our official and semi-official press has no doubt about the eventual victory of German communism. "The German workers have experienced their July defeat, but after a treacherous July will inevitably come a joyous, exultant October" - this is the commentary on the German events, repeated in various keys by the Izvestiyas and the Pravdas, and sanctified by the authority of Lenin himself. In his most recent encyclical "to the workers of Europe and America", the leader of our communist government expresses his unshakeable conviction that "the blood of the best representatives of the world proletarian International... will steel ever new masses of workers for the life-and-death struggle. And this struggle will lead to victory. We in Russia, in the summer of 1917, lived through the 'July days', when the Russian Scheidemanns, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, also provided 'state' protection for the 'victory' of the whiteguards over the Bolsheviks... We know from experience how quickly such "victories" of the bourgeoisie and their henchmen cure the people of their illusions about bourgeois democracy, 'universal suffrage', and so forth."

However, on closer inspection, the analogy between the July days of 1917 in Petersburg and the January days of 1919 in Berlin is far from complete. In July there was no organised civil war on the streets of Petersburg. There were, of course, individual clashes, and individual acts of violence on one side or the other. But overall, the Russian "Scheidemanns" managed to calm the outburst of elemental Bolshevik rage with their favourite method of "talking them round". The crowd of armed sailors that was besieging the Executive Committee of the time was dispersed with speeches. Then, once the July movement had been "suppressed", our "Scheidemanns" spent three days on the telephone trying to persuade Lenin and Zinoviev to allow themselves to be arrested. As a result, as we know, the incident was smoothed over with a compromise. It was decided that the leaders of the "rising" were to be left in peace, since they had gone into hiding from government persecution and were now in an "illegal" position. Berlin in January this year presented a completely different picture. The insurgents' seizure of a series of government buildings, the determined military defence of these buildings, the bloody battles with the use of artillery and grenades, with masses of casualties, and finally the killing of the insurgents' leaders - this all suggests an atmosphere of determined and decisive battle, rather than some embryonic, not-fully-formed outburst of revolutionary ferment like our July days. And if we want to look for analogies in our own revolutionary history, then Berlin today does not remind us of Petersburg in July 1917, but of Moscow in December 1905, when the last attempts of small bands of workers to sustain an armed uprising perished on the barricades of Presnya.

But of course, these external analogies are hardly convincing in themselves. As for the objective conditions in which the German revolution is developing, it is easy to see that the mix of factors which favoured and hindered the development of Bolshevism is completely different in Germany than it was in Russia.

First of all, in Russia that collection of institutions which is currently known as the "soviet system" arose as the spontaneous reaction of the masses to the complete helplessness of our state in dealing with the economic collapse. The so-called "democratisation" of the organs of supply and distribution became a slogan of the revolution long before the victory of Bolshevism. The committees, "special conferences" and inter-departmental commissions bequeathed by the autocracy began to be filled out with elected representatives of the "revolutionary democracy" from the very first days of the February revolution. The new economic organs attached to the soviets were built on the same collegiate-representative principles. Already under the coalition regime, this democratic "inflation", which had smothered the old state machine and rendered it finally unworkable, had acquired grandiose proportions. The October revolution did not introduce any fundamental changes here - it simply removed the final obstacles preventing the elemental "popular creativity" from reaching its logical conclusion.

Germany is in a completely different position. Even under the old regime, its state regulatory apparatus was very well constructed and worked as well as was possible under the extremely difficult circumstances that the war imposed upon the German economy. This apparatus continued to operate just as methodically during the revolution under the supervision of the new government. So far as we are aware, in Germany nobody has even raised the question of replacing those state institutions which regulate the distribution of raw materials and foodstuffs with Great-Russian-style soviet collegiate bodies. Any intelligent German worker, however Spartacist his political sympathies may be, understands very well that given the absolute shortage of food which exists in Germany, a Russian-style "economic dictatorship" would condemn the German proletariat to death by starvation in the very near future.

The entire course of economic development in Germany has also meant that the question of "socialising" production has also been posed in a much more concrete way than here in Russia. It certainly does not open up the prospect of the sort of unconstrained fantastic experimentation which is rife in our industry. The radical Rudolf Hilferding - the same Hilferding who forged all the theoretical weaponry of today's Russian communists - presented a very definite and very cautious socialisation project at the congress of workers' councils. He proposed that only mining and heavy industry should be taken over by the state, since, on the one hand, it is that branch of the economy which is most ready for transfer to state control and since, on the other hand, it would give the state de facto control of the most important means of production, thereby subjecting all other branches of production to state supervision. Hilferding's "moderation", which won his project recognition not only from the Scheidemannists but even from certain bourgeois circles, is not to be explained by some kind of conciliationist turn on his part. It is exclusively because, as befits a Marxist, when working out a plan of social construction he was guided by considerations of economic expediency, concern for the conservation and development of productive forces, and was organically incapable of taking the position, so popular here, of just "using" any and all social organisations as a means to strengthen the political influence of his party.

In Germany, where the objective situation is giving definite shape to a rational scheme for socialising the economy, calls for "immediate" and complete socialisation cannot enjoy great success among developed and organised workers. Indeed, so far as we can judge from the information reaching us, the Spartacist movement is short of workers who had been schooled in trade union or political organisations. Even the "revolutionary shop stewards" - the organisations created by the extreme revolutionaries as a counterweight to the party and unions - even these copies of our factory committees, which in Russia were bastions of Bolshevism from the outset, turned out in Germany to be suffused with the spirit of conciliationism. As we can see from Liebknecht's speech at the Spartacist congress, the Berlin shop stewards in the main had taken a position significantly to the right of that of the Spartakusbund, and many of them had made their support of the Spartacists conditional on them abandoning revolutionary tactics. On the other hand, the same conference shows that the main body of Spartacists is certainly not just an ignorant crowd under the spell of its leaders. Our Soviet press portrays the late Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as the instigators of the insurgent movement. In reality, however, they played a different role. Their speeches at the conference, although brilliantly demagogic in form, were very opportunist in content...

Both Luxemburg and Liebknecht tried to convince their audience that the moment for a victorious uprising was still far off. They depicted the enormous difficulties that a embarking on communist revolution would entail, and called for patience and restraint. They doggedly argued for participation in the elections, in order to use the constituent assembly as a tribune for exposing the Scheidemannists and mobilising more significant revolutionary forces. But all these calls fell on deaf ears at the conference. The speakers were interrupted with contemptuous, offensive catcalls ("We won't be fobbed off!" they shouted to Liebknecht), and rejected the proposals of the party's official leaders by a large majority of votes.

It was neither sincere devotees of the communist idea, nor ignorant masses who blindly follow their leaders who predominated at the conference, but, as we can see, people of a different type. They related to ideas and to ideologists with a large dose of couldn't-give-a-damnism, they had little interest in the final goals, but they were raring to get stuck into any internecine free-for-all, in the hope of coming out on top, even if only for a fleeting moment.

Thus, the first steps of German revolutionary communism force us to conclude that it is not like our Bolshevism. Whereas the main basis of the Bolshevik movement lay in the backward masses, exhausted by the hardships of wartime, the main basis of German communism lies in very "conscious" activists from that new, broad international of déclassé adventurists created by the war. Indeed, the exhausted and backward masses who followed the Bolsheviks did so because only they were making categorical promises of immediate peace, land, bread and full freedom. In Germany, however, it is the Scheidemann regime which guarantees immediate peace and a measure of freedom, while the victory of the Spartacists would mean the continuation of the war, occupation and the enslavement of Germany by foreign forces. Similarly, only a moderate government, and certainly not a communist one, has any chance of getting hold of any bread, which at present is in the hands of the Anglo-Americans. In such circumstances, the exhausted and backward masses need to keep to the right, not to the left. The subsequent evolution of social relations within Germany will depend above all on its "bread" prospects. If Wilson succeeds in convincing the leading circles of the Entente that their own interests demand an immediate end to the blockade of Germany, if the Germans get speedy and serious food aid, then they will undoubtedly succeed in restoring their economy, which, although badly shaken by the war, is still very well organised. Then German communism will immediately decline and quickly dissipate, leaving behind nothing but some dramatic memories. But if the current policy of systematic looting, arbitrary occupation and vicious blockade is kept up for any length of time, then the development and triumph of German communism will be assured. Because self-control and organisation have their limits. On the eve of death from starvation, too much far-sighted caution becomes absurd. Common sense dictates that you seize all the available stocks, share them out equally and use them up, just to stave off death for a little longer. And that is "communism".