History of the CPSU (B)
(the 6 most important
lessons of the Bolshevist Party)
The history of the Party teaches us, first of all, that the victory of the proletarian revolution, the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is impossible without a revolutionary party of the proletariat, a party free from opportunism, irreconcilable towards compromisers and capitulators, and revolutionary in its attitude towards the bourgeoisie and its state power.
The history of the Party teaches us that to leave the proletariat without such a party means to leave it without revolutionary leadership; and to leave it without revolutionary leadership means to ruin the cause of the proletarian revolution.
The history of the Party teaches us that the ordinary Social-Democratic Party of the West-European type, brought up under conditions of civil peace, trailing in the wake of the opportunists, dreaming of "social reforms," and dreading social revolution, cannot be such a party.
The history of the Party teaches us that only a party of the new type, a Marxist-Leninist party, a party of social revolution, a party capable of preparing the proletariat for decisive battles against the bourgeoisie and of organizing the victory of the proletarian revolution, can be such a party.
"In the pre-revolutionary period," Comrade Stalin says, "in the period of more or less peaceful development, when the parties of the Second International were the predominant force in the working-class movement and parliamentary forms of struggle were regarded as the principal forms, the party neither had nor could have had that great and decisive importance which it acquired afterwards, under conditions of open revolutionary battle. Defending the Second International against attacks made upon it, Kautsky says that the parties of the Second International are instruments of peace and not of war, and that for this very reason they were powerless to take any important steps during the war, during the period of revolutionary action by the proletariat. That is quite true. But what does it mean? It means that the parties of the Second International are unfit for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, that they are not miltant parties of the proletariat, leading the workers to power, but election machines adapted for parliamentary elections and parliamentary struggle. This, in fact, explains why, in the days when the opportunists of the Second International were in the ascendancy, it was not the party but its parliamentary group that was the chief political organization of the proletariat. It is well known that the party at that time was really an appendage and subsidiary of the parliamentary group. It goes without saying that under such circumstances and with such a party at the helm there could be no question of preparing the proletariat for revolution.
"But matters have changed radically with the dawn of the new period. The new period is one of open class collisions, of revolutionary action by the proletariat, of proletarian revolution, a period when forces are being directly mustered for the overthrow of imperialism and the seizure of power by the proletariat. In this period the proletariat is confronted with new tasks, the tasks of reorganizing all party work on new, revolutionary lines; of educating the workers in the spirit of revolutionary struggle for power; of preparing and moving up reserves; of establishing an alliance with the proletarians of neighbouring countries; of establishing firm ties with the liberation movement in the colonies and dependent countries, etc., etc. To think that these new tasks can be performed by the old Social-Democratic parties, brought up as they were in the peaceful conditions of parliamentarism, is to doom oneself to hopeless despair and inevitable defeat. If, with such tasks to shoulder, the proletariat remained under the leadership of the old parties it would be completely unarmed and defenceless. It goes without saying that the proletariat could not consent to such a state of affairs.
"Hence the necessity for a new party, a militant party, a revolutionary party, one bold enough to lead the proletarians in the struggle for power, sufficiendy experienced to find its bearings amidst the complex conditions of a revolutionary situation, and sufficiendy fiexible to steer clear of all submerged rocks in the path to its goal.
"Without such a party it is useless even to think of overthrowing imperialism and achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat. "This new party is the party of Leninism." (Joseph Stalin, Leninism, Vol. I, pp. 87-8.)
The history of the Party further teaches us that a party of the working class cannot perform the role of leader of its class, cannot perform the role of organizer and leader of the proletarian revolution, unless it has mastered the advanced theory of the working-class movement, the Marxist-Leninist theory.
The power of the Marxist-Leninist theory lies in the fact that it enables the Party to find the right orientation in any situation, to understand the inner connection of current events, to foresee their course and to perceive not only how and in what direction they are developing in the present, but how and in what direction they are bound to develop in the future.
It may seem that all that is required for mastering the Marxist-Leninist theory is diligendy to learn by heart isolated conclusions and propositions from the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, learn to quote them at opportune times and rest at that, in the hope that the conclusions and propositions thus memorized will suit each and every situation and occasion. But such an approach to the Marxist-Leninist theory is altogether wrong. The Marxist-Leninist theory must not be regarded as a collection of dogmas, as a catechism, as a symbol of faith, and the Marxists themselves as pedants and dogmatists. The Marxist-Leninist theory is the science of the development of society, the science of the working-class movement, the science of the proletarian revolution, the science of the building of the Communist society. And as a science it does not and cannot stand still, but develops and perfects itself. Clearly, in its development it is bound to become enriched by new experience and new knowledge, and some of its propositions and conclusions are bound to change in the course of time, are bound to be replaced by new conclusions and propositions corresponding to the new historical conditions.
Mastering the Marxist-Leninist theory does not at all mean learning all its formulas and conclusions by heart and clinging to their every letter. To master the Marxist-Leninist theory we must first of all learn to distinguish between its letter and substance.
Mastering the Marxist-Leninist theory means assimilating the substance of this theory and learning to use it in the solution of the practical problems of the revolutionary movement under the varying conditions of the class struggle of the proletariat.
Mastering the Marxist-Leninist theory means being able to enrich this theory with the new experience of the revolutionary movement, with new propositions and conclusions, it means being able to develop it and advance it without hesitating to replace -- in accordance with the substance of the theory -- such of its propositions and conclusions as have become antiquated by new ones corresponding to the new historical situation.
Before the Second Russian Revolution (February I917), the Marxists of all countries assumed that the parliamentary democratic republic was the most suitable form of political organization of society in the period of transition from capitalism to Socialism. It is true that in the seventies Marx stated that the most suitable form for the dictatorship of the proletariat was a political organization of the type of the Paris Commune, and not the parliamentary republic. But, unfortunately, Marx did not develop this proposition any further in his writings and it was committed to oblivion. Moreover, Engels' authoritative statement in his criticism of the draft of the Erfurt Program in I891, namely, that "the democratic republic . . . is . . . the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat" left no doubt that the Marxists continued to regard the democratic republic as the political form for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Engels' proposition later became a guiding principle for all Marxists, including Lenin. However, the Russian Revolution of 1905, and especially the Revolution of February I9I7, advanced a new form of political organization of society -- the Soviets of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies. As a result of a study of the experience of the two Russian revolutions, Lenin, on the basis of the theory of Marxism, arrived at the conclusion that the best political form for the dictatorship of the proletariat was not a parliamentary democratic republic, but a republic of Soviets. Proceeding from this, Lenin, in April I9I7, during the period of transition from the bourgeois to the Socialist revolution, issued the slogan of a republic of Soviets as the best political form for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The opportunists of all countries clung to the parliamentary republic and accused Lenin of departing from Marxism and destroying democracy. But it was Lenin, of course, who was the real Marxist who had mastered the theory of Marxism, and not the opportunists, for Lenin was advancing the Marxist theory by enriching it with new experience, whereas the opportunists were dragging it back and transforming one of its propositions into a dogma.
What would have happened to the Party, to our revolution, to Marxism, if Lenin had been overawed by the letter of Marxism and had not had the courage to replace one of the old propositions of Marxism, for mulated by Engels, by the new proposition regarding the republic of Soviets, a proposition that corresponded to the new historical conditions? The Party would have groped in the dark, the Soviets would have been disorganized, we should not have had a Soviet power, and the Marxist theory would have suffered a severe setback. The proletariat would have lost, and the enemies of the proletariat would have won.
As a result of a study of pre-imperialist capitalism Engels and Marx arrived at the conclusion that the Socialist revolution could not be victorious in one country, taken singly, that it could be victorious only by a simultaneous stroke in all, or the majority of the civilized countries. That was in the middle of the nineteenth century. This conclusion later became a guiding principle for all Marxists. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, pre-imperialist capitalism had grown into imperialist capitalism, ascendant capitalism had turned into moribund capitalism. As a result of a study of imperialist capitalism, Lenin, on the basis of the Marxist theory, arrived at the conclusion that the old formula of Engels and Marx no longer corresponded to the new historical conditions, and that the victory of the Socialist revolution was quite possible in one country, taken singly. The opportunists of all countries clung to the old formula of Engels and Marx and accused Lenin of departing from Marxism. But it was Lenin, of course, who was the real Marxist who had mastered the theory of Marxism, and not the opportunists, for Lenin was advancing the Marxist theory by enriching it with new experience, whereas the opportunists were dragging it back, mummifying it.
What would have happened to the Party, to our revolution, to Marxism, if Lenin had been overawed by the letter of Marxism and had not had the courage of theoretical conviction to discard one of the old conclusions of Marxism and to replace it by a new conclusion affirming that the victory of Socialism in one country, taken singly, was possible, a conclusion which corresponded to the new historical conditions? The Party would have groped in the dark, the proletarian revolution would have been deprived of leadership, and the Marxist theory would have begun to decay. The proletariat would have lost, and the enemies of the proletariat would have won.
Opportunism does not always mean a direct denial of the Marxist theory or of any of its propositions and conclusions. Opportunism is sometimes expressed in the attempt to cling to certain of the propositions of Marxism that have already become antiquated and to convert them into a dogma, so as to retard the further development of Marxism, and, consequently, to retard the development of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.
It may be said without fear of exaggeration that since the death of Engels the master theoretician Lenin, and after Lenin, Stalin and the other disciples of Lenin, have been the only Marxists who have advanced the Marxist theory and who have enriched it with new experience in the new conditions of the class struggle of the proletariat.
And just because Lenin and the Leninists have advanced the Marxist theory, Leninism is a further development of Marxism; it is Marxism in the new conditions of the class struggle of the proletariat, Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolutions, Marxism of the epoch of the victory of Socialism on one-sixth of the earth's surface.
The Bolshevik Party could not have won in October I9I7 if its foremost men had not mastered the theory of Marxism, if they had not learned to regard this theory as a guide to action, if they had not learned to advance the Marxist theory by enriching it with the new experience of the class struggle of the proletariat.
"The Germans have not understood how to use their theory as a lever which could set the American masses in motion; they do not understand the theory themselves for the most part and treat it in a doctrinaire and dogmatic way, as something which has got to be learned off by heart and which will then supply all needs without more ado. To them it is a dogma and not a guide to action." (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, pp. 449-450.)
Criticizing Kamenev and some of the old Bolsheviks who in April I917 clung to the old formula of a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry at a time when the revolutionary movement had gone on ahead and was demanding a transition to the Socialist revolution, Lenin wrote:
"Our teaching is not a dogma, but a guide to action, Marx and Engels always used to say, rightly ridiculing the learning and repetition by rote of 'formulas' which at best are only capable of outlining general tasks that are necessarily liable to be modified by the concrete economic and political conditions of each separate phase of the historical process. . . . It is essential to realize the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognizance of real life, of the concrete realities, and must not continue to cling to a theory of yesterday. . . ." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XX, pp. 100-101.)
The history of the Party further teaches us that unless the petty-bourgeois parties which are active within the ranks of the working class and which push the backward sections of the working class into the arms of the bourgeoisie, thus splitting the unity of the working class, are smashed, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible.
The history of our Party is the history of the struggle against the petty-bourgeois parties -- the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Anarchists and nationalists -- and of the utter defeat of these parties. If these parties had not been vanquished and driven out of the ranks of the working class, the unity of the working class could not have been achieved; and if the working class had not been united, it would have been impossible to achieve the victory of the proletarian revolution.
If these parties, which at first stood for the preservation of capitalism, and later, after the October Revolution, for the restoration of capitalism, had not been utterly defeated, it would have been impossible to preserve the dictatorship of the proletariat, to defeat the foreign armed intervention, and to build up Socialism.
It cannot be regarded as an accident that all the petty-bourgeois parties, which styled themselves "revolutionary" and "socialist" parties in order to deceive the people -- the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Anarchists and nationalists -- became counter-revolutionary parties even before the October Socialist Revolution, and later turned into agents of foreign bourgeois espionage services, into a gang of spies, wreckers, diversionists, assassins and traitors to the country.
"The unity of the proletariat in the epoch of social revolution," Lenin says,, "can be achieved only by the extreme revolutionary party of Marxism, and only by a relentless struggle against all other parties." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXVI, p. 50.)
The history of the Party further teaches us that unless the Party of the working class wages an uncompromising struggle against the opportunists within its own ranks, unless it smashcs the capitulators in its own midst, it cannot preserve unity and discipline within its ranks, it cannot perforrn its role of organizer and leader of the proletarian revolution, nor its role as the builder of the new, Socialist society.
The history of the development of the internal life of our Party is the history of the struggle against the opportunist groups within the Party -- the "Economists," Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Bukharinites and nationalist deviators -- and of the utter defeat of these groups.
The history of our Party teaches us that all these groups of capitulators were in point of fact agents of Menshevism within our Party, the lees and dregs of Menshevism, the continuers of Menshevism. Like the Mensheviks, they acted as vehicles of bourgeois influence among the working class and in the Party. The struggle for the liquidation of these groups within the Party was therefore a continuation of the struggle for the liquidation of Menshevism.
If we had not defeated the nationalist deviators of all shades and colours, we could not have educated the people in the spirit of internationalism, we could not have safeguarded the banner of the great amity of the nations of the U.S.S.R., and we could not have built up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
It may seem to some that the Bolsheviks devoted far too much time to this struggle against the opportunist elements within the Party, that they overrated their importance. But that is altogether wrong. Opportunism in our midst is like an ulcer in a healthy organism, and must not be tolerated. The Party is the leading detachment of the working class, its advanced fortress, its general staff. Sceptics, opportunists, capitulators and traitors cannot be tolerated on the directing staff of the working class. If, while it is carrying on a life and death fight against the bourgeoisie, there are capitulators and traitors on its own staff, within its own fortress, the working class will be caught between two fires, from the front and the rear. Clearly, such a struggle can only end in defeat. The easiest way to capture a fortress is from within. To attain victory, the Party of the working class, its directing staff, its advanced fortress, must first be purged of capitulators, deserters, scabs and traitors.
It cannot be regarded as an accident that the Trotskyites, Bukharinites and natlonalist deviators who fought Lenin and the Party ended just as the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary parties did, namely, by becoming agents of fascist espionage services, by turning spies, wreckers, assassins, diversionists and traitors to the country.
"With reformists, Mensheviks, in our ranks," Lenin said, "it is impossible to achieve victory in the proletarian revolution, it is impossible to retain it. That is obvious in principle, and it has been strikingly confirmed by the experience both of Russia and Hungary. . . . In Russia, difficult situations have arisen many times, when the Soviet regime would most certainly have been overthrown had Mensheviks, reformists and petty-bourgeois democrats remained in our Party. . . ." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXV, pp. 462-63.)
"Our Party," Comrade Stalin says, "succeeded in creating internal unity and unexampled cohesion of its ranks primarily because it was able in good time to purge itself of the opportunist pollution, because it was able to rid its ranks of the Liquidators, the Mensheviks. Proletarian parties develop and become strong by purging themselves of opportunists and reformists, social-imperialists and social-chauvinists, social-patriots and social-pacifists. The Party be comes strong by purging itself of opportunist elements." (Joseph Stalin, Leninism.)
The history of the Party further teaches us that a party cannot perform its role as leader of the working class if, carried away by success, it begins to grow conceited, ceases to observe the defects in its work, and fears to acknowledge its mistakes and frankly and honestly to correct them in good time.
A party is invincible if it does not fear criticism and self-criticism, if it does not gloss over the mistakes and defects in its work, if it teaches and educates its cadres by drawing the lessons from the mistakes in Party work, and if it knows how to correct its mistakes in time.
A party perishes if it conceals its mistakes, if it glosses over sore problems, if it covers up its shortcomings by pretending that all is well, if it is intolerant of criticism and self-criticism, if it gives way to self-complacency and vainglory and if it rests on its laurels.
"The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes," Lenin says, " is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it in practice fulfils its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses. Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions which led to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it -- that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXV, p. 200.)
"All revolutionary parties, which have hitherto perished, did so because they grew conceited, failed to see where their strength lay, and feared to speak of their weaknesses. But we shall not perish, for we do not fear to speak of our weaknesses and will learn to overcome them." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXVII, pp. 260-61.)
Lastly, the history of the Party teaches us that unless it has wide connections with the masses, unless it constantly strengthens these connections, unless it knows how to hearken to the voice of the masses and understand their urgent needs, unless it is prepared not only to teach the masses, but to learn from the masses, a party of the working class cannot be a real mass party capable of leading the working class millions and all the labouring people.
A party is invincible if it is able, as Lenin says, "to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and, to a certain extent if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers -- primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian toiling masses." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXV, p. I74.)
"We may take it as the rule," Comrade Stalin says, "that as long as the Bolsheviks maintain connection with the broad masses of the people they will be invincible. And, on the contrary, as soon as the Bolsheviks sever themselves from the masses and lose their connection with them, as soon as they become covered with bureaucratic rust, they will lose all their strength and become a mere cipher.
"In the mythology of the ancient Greeks there was a celebrated hero, Antaeus, who, so the legend goes, was the son of Poseidon, god of the seas, and Gaea, goddess of the earth. Antaeus was very much attached to the mother who had given birth to him, suckled him and reared him. There was not a hero whom this Antaeus did not vanquish. He was regarded as an invincible hero. Wherein lay his strength? It lay in the fact that every time he was hard pressed in a fight with an adversary he would touch the earth, the mother who had given birth to him and suckled him, and that gave him new strength. Yet he had a vulnerable spot -- the danger of being detached from the earth in some way or other. His enemies were aware of this weakness and watched for him. One day an enemy appeared who took advantage of this vulnerable spot and vanquished Antaeus. This was Hercules. How did Hercules vanquish Antaeus? He lifted him from the earth, kept him suspended in the air, prevented him from touching the earth, and throttled him.
"I think that the Bolsheviks remind us of the hero of Greek mythology, Antaeus. They, like Antaeus, are strong because they maintain connection with their mother, the masses, who gave birth to them, suckled them and reared them. And as long as they mairtain connection with their mother, with the people, they have every chance of remaining invincible.
"That is the key to the invincibility of Bolshevik leadership." (J. Stalin, 'Mastering Bolshevism', pp. 58-60.)
Such are the chief lessons to be drawn from the historical path traversed by the Bolshevik Party.