The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution
(Draft Platform for the Proletarian Party)
9. Revolutionary defencismmust be regarded as the most important, the most striking manifestation of the petty-bourgeois wave that has swept over “nearly everything”. It is the worst enemy of the further progress and success of the Russian revolution.
Those who have yielded on this point and have been unable to extricate themselves are lost to the revolution. But the masses yield in a different way from the leaders, and they extricate themselves differently, by a different course of development, by different means.
Revolutionary defencism is, on the one hand, a result of the deception of the masses by the bourgeoisie, a result of the trustful lack of reasoning on the part of the peasants and a section of the workers; it is, on the other, an expression of the interests and point of view of the small proprietor, who is to some extent interested in annexations and bank profits, and who “sacredly” guards the traditions of tsarism, which demoralised the Great Russians by making them do a hangman’s work against the other peoples.
The bourgeoisie deceives the people by working on their noble pride in the revolution and by pretending that the social and politicalcharacter of the war, as far as Russia is concerned, underwent a change because of this stage of the revolution, because of the substitution of the near republic of Guchkov and Milyukov for the tsarist monarchy. And the people believed it—for a time—largely owing to age-old prejudices, which made them look upon the other peoples of Russia, i.e., the non-Great Russians, as something in the nature of a property and private estate of the Great Russians. This vile demoralisation of the Great Russian people by tsarism which taught them to regard the other peoples as something inferior, something belonging “by right” to Great Russia, could not disappear instantly.
What is required of us is the ability to explain to the masses that the social and political character of the war is determined not by the “good will” of individuals or groups, or even of nations, but by the position of the class which conducts the war, by the class policy of which the war is a continuation, by the ties of capital, which is the dominant economic force in modern society, by the imperialist character of international capital, by Russia’s dependence in finance, banking and diplomacy upon Britain, France, and so on. To explain this skilfully in a way the people would understand is not easy ; none of us would be able to do it at once without committing errors.
But this, and only this, must be the aim or, rather, the message of our propaganda. The slightest concession to revolutionary defencism is a betrayal of socialism, a complete renunciation of internationalism, no matter by what fine phrases and “practical” considerations it may be justified.
The slogan “Down with the War!” is, of course, correct. But it fails to take into account the specific nature of the tasks of the present moment and the necessity of approaching the broad mass of the people in a different way. It reminds me of the slogan “Down with the Tsar!” with which the inexperienced agitator of the “good old days” went simply and directly to the countryside—and got a beating for his pains. The mass believers in revolutionary defencism are honest, not in the personal, but in the class sense, i.e., they belong to classes(workers and the peasant poor) which in actual facthave nothing to gain from annexations and the subjugation of other peoples. This is nothing like the bourgeois and the “intellectual” fraternity, who know very well that you cannotrenounce annexations without renouncing the rule of capital, and who unscrupulously deceive the people with fine phrases, with unlimited promises and endless assurances.
The rank-and-file believer in defencism regards the matter in the simple way of the man in the street: “I don’t want annexations, but the Germans are ’going for’ me, therefore I’m defending a just cause and not any kind of imperialist interests at all.” To a man like this it must be explained again and again that it is not a question of his personal wishes, but of mass, class, political relations and conditions, of the connection between the war and the interests of capital and the international network of banks, and so forth. Only such a struggle against defencism will be serious and will promise success—perhaps not a very rapid success, but one that will be real and enduring.