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New International, July 1938


The Editors

Once More: Kronstadt

From New International, Vol.4 No.7, July 1938, pp.211-214.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Readers of The New International who have followed the lately revived discussion of the Kronstadt uprising in 1921, to which John C. Wright and Leon Trotsky have contributed articles in recent issues, will be interested in the communications which we print below. The first one is from the well-known Franco-Belgian writer who lived in Russia throughout most of the years after the Bolshevik victory and whose writings, especially his recent Russia: Twenty Years After, have been widely read.

Letter from Victor Serge

The second communication on the subject comes from one of the editors of the Partisan Review:

Letter from Dwight Macdonald

The Main Point. Our contributors seem to have missed the main point of the articles by J.G. Wright and Leon Trotsky, developed in even greater detail by the latter, namely, that the flood of Kronstadt-criticism lately unleashed by anarchists, Mensheviks, bourgeois politicians and others is aimed by the latter to discredit revolutionary Marxism, represented by the Fourth International, so that their respective political wares may seem all the more attractive, or at least not quite so unattractive. Macdonald’s complaint that all who express doubts about Kronstadt are thrown into a single counter-revolutionary pot, is totally unwarranted. We have yet to see a study of the Kronstadt uprising made from the standpoint of pure historical research or animated by anything but the crassest political aim of demonstrating that Bolshevism is reactionary or bankrupt or that, at the very least, a different political program, party or philosophy should be substituted for it. Whoever wishes, is entitled to do this. The anarchists can show that by their policy there would have been no Kronstadt in Russia, just as there is none in Spain; also, there would have been no proletarian revolution in Russia, just as there is none in Spain. The Menshevik critics are absolutely correct in saying that their policy would have averted Kronstadt and the degeneration of the revolution, because there would have been no revolution to degenerate. Miliukov and Kerensky may boast of the fact that they produced no Stalin in 1923 or Kronstadt two years earlier; but as we recall they almost produced a victorious Kornilov-Cavaignac in 1917.

All critics are entitled to engage in the most thoroughgoing study of Kronstadt, and also to propose a program so different from that of the Bolsheviks – or the essential Bolshevik program with such improvements and safeguards – as would guarantee against or at least lessen the danger of Kronstadts and degeneration. What is more, we are ready to discuss all such proposals. But we are frank to say that while we do not believe in the immaculate conception and evolution of Bolshevism, or in its flawless-ness and infallibility, we remain the stoutest partisans of its fundamental principles, proud of its traditions and not very receptive to the substitutes offered by the social democrats, centrists, anarchists or plain bourgeois democrats. We are ready to discuss all revolutionary problems, but from a viewpoint of our own, which we defend until we are shown one that is superior.

Degeneration of Bolshevism. It is quite possible that more foresight and skill might have reduced the danger of a Kronstadt or in any case minimized the scope of its repercussions. The Russian revolution committed many excesses and had many a blunderer, coward and scoundrel in its leadership; we know of no revolution without them. It is unworthy of a Marxist, however, to confuse the excesses with the main line of activity, or to lose his sense of proportions by identifying the two. There is a difference between the zealous fireman who may needlessly ruin some furniture in putting out a conflagration and the arsonist who sets the house afire or the sheriff who evicts the man who built the house. Macdonald wonders if the degeneration is not inherent in the very nature of Bolshevik party organization and its dictatorship; Victor Serge asks when and where Bolshevism began to degenerate and finds the answer in Kronstadt, 1921, before that in the treatment of the Mensheviks in 1920, before that in the Inquisitional procedure of 1918. Neither facts nor Marxian theory support either of these fundamentally idealistic standpoints.

The consummate expression of degeneration – Stalinism – triumphed in the degree to which it wiped out the Bolshevik party and its “dictatorship”. The degeneration marks the victory of the Thermidorian counter-revolution. The social representatives of this counter-revolution were the better-situated peasantry, the petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements in the country, increasingly resentful of proletarian and Bolshevik rule. After the War Communism rigors, came the reaction, to which the peasants set the tone. Stalinism represents the yielding of the workers’ bureaucracy to this reaction. To the Marxist it is clear that fundamentally the social forces behind Kronstadt, the social forces behind the Menshevik companions-in-arms of the Allied imperialists, found a far more finished and triumphant expression in the victory of Stalinism! For what does the latter’s development represent, with its labor aristocracy, its “millionaire kolkhozniki”, its reconciliation with “democratic” imperialism, its Soviets without communists, its abandonment of revolutionary principle: the product of the social forces variously represented by the Mensheviks, the SRs, the Makhnos – or the organizational deficiencies or excesses of Lenin’s party?

Even if we grant Macdonald’s argument that while all this is generally true, “certain weaknesses [which exactly?] of Bolshevist political theory” were a contributory cause of the degeneration, we would still have to say about this vague formula that it was only in the period of reaction, coinciding with Stalin’s rise to power, that the unspecified weaknesses acquired any decisive social significance.

And even if we grant Victor Serge’s proposal to “take up all the problems again from the bottom”, we would still have to say that in endorsing the POUM’s substitute for Bolshevism in Spain, he did not go very far beyond his point of departure.

Question of Tone. Victor Serge, implicitly, and Macdonald, explicitly, complain about our “tone”. We find it difficult to understand them. The anarchist bureaucracy is killing the proletarian revolution in Spain and trying to cover its perfidy by shouting: “Stop thief! There go the assassins of Kronstadt and Trotsky the butcher!” How shall we characterize them and their pleasantries? Or those of their social-patriotic and bourgeois counterparts throughout the world? By polite chafings and chidings? We deliberately word our polemics so that the thinking worker will understand how seriously we take service to the proletarian revolution and its opposite, treachery; so that he will not imagine that the conflict between the two is no more than a misunderstanding between two good friends.

Macdonald charges Trotsky with an amalgam. An amalgam is the equivalent in politics of a mechanically forced union of diverse metals: the Opposition and the Wrangel officer, Trotsky and Hitler, Macdonald and Hearst. What has that in common with the assertion, entirely indisputable, that the anarchist politicians, the social-patriots and bourgeois democrats à la Miliukov, are all fighting Bolshevism with the cry of “Kronstadt!” in order to enhance the looks of their respective political wares? But does Macdonald, whom we know as a friend of our movement, notice the tone of his own words?

It happens quite often that amiable critics of the “Trotskyists” will say in the most sophisticated and nonchalant manner: “You people are just like the Stalinists, fundamentally.” Or: “Didn’t you people massacre the Kronstadters and the Makhanovists?” Or: “If you were in power, you’d act just like Stalin or Vyshinsky or Yagoda.” Or: “Don’t you think there is just a little truth in the charges of Trotsky’s relations with Hitler?” And when we reply to such irresponsible or monstrous remarks with only half the sharpness they deserve, our critics become inexpressibly shocked, and exclaim: “How can you discuss with these Trotskyists! Their tone is insufferable, their manners deplorable!”

Against such criticism, polemic itself is disarmed.

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