Trotsky on “Worshipers of the Accomplished Fact”
[Originally titled “The ‘Friends’ of the Soviet Union” which was an appendix to the 1936 Revolution Betrayed. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch12.htm#ch12-1]
The “Friends” of the Soviet Union
For the first time a powerful government provides a stimulus abroad not to the respectable right, but to the left and extreme left press. The sympathies of the popular masses for the great revolution are being very skillfully canalized and sluiced into the mill of the Soviet bureaucracy. The “sympathizing” Western press is imperceptibly losing the right to publish anything which might aggrieve the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union. Books undesirable to the Kremlin are maliciously unmentioned. Noisy and mediocre apologists are published in many languages. We have avoided quoting throughout this work the specific productions of of the official “friends”, preferring the crude originals to the stylized foreign paraphrases. However, the literature of the “friends”, including that of the Communist International, the most crass and vulgar part of it, presents in cubic metres an impressive magnitude, and plays not the last role in politics. We must devote a few concluding pages to it.
At present the chief contribution to the treasury of thought is declared to be the Webbs’ book, Soviet Communism. Instead of relating what has been achieved and in what direction the achieved is developing, the authors expound for twelve hundred pages what is contemplated, indicated in the bureaus, or expounded in the laws. Their conclusion is: When the projects, plans and laws are carried out, then communism will be realized in the Soviet Union. Such is the content of this depressing book, which rehashes the reports of Moscow bureaus and the anniversary articles of the Moscow press.
Friendship for the Soviet bureaucracy is not friendship for the proletarian revolution, but, on the contrary, insurance against it. The Webbs are, to be sure, ready to acknowledge that the communist system will sometime or other spread to to the rest of the world.
“But how, when, where, with what modifications, and whether through violent revolution, or by peaceful penetration, or even by conscious imitation, are questions we cannot answer.”
This diplomatic refusal to answer – or, in reality, this unequivocal answer – is in the highest degree characteristic of the “friends”, and tells the actual price of their friendship. If everybody had thus answered the question of revolution before 1917, when it was infinitely harder to answer, there would have been no Soviet state in the world, and the British “friends” would have had to expand their fund of friendly emotion upon other objects.
The Webbs speak as of something which goes without saying about the vanity of hoping for a European revolution in the near future, and they gather from that a comforting proof of the correctness of the theory of socialism in one country. With the authority of people for whom the October Revolution was a complete, and moreover an unpleasant, surprise, they give us lessons in the necessity of building a socialist society within the limits of the Soviet Union in the absence of other perspectives. It is difficult to refrain from an impolite movement of the shoulders! In reality, our dispute with the Webbs is not as to the necessity of building factories in the SOviet Union and employing mineral fertilizers on the collective farms, but as to whether it is necessary to prepare a revolution in Great Britain and how it shall be done. Upon that question the learned sociologues answer: “We do not know.” They consider the very question, of course, in conflict with “science.”
Lenin was passionately hostile to the conservative bourgeois who imagines himself a socialist, and, in particular, to the British Fabians. By the biographical glossary attached to his Works”, it is not difficult to find out that his attitude to the Webbs throughout his whole active life remained one of unaltered fierce hostility. In 1907 he first wrote of the Webbs as “obtuse eulogists of English philistinism”, who try to represent Chartism, the revolutionary epoch of the English labor movement, as mere childishness.” Without Chartism, however, there would have been no Paris Commune. Without both, there would have been no October revolution. The Webbs found in the Soviet Union only an administrative mechanism and a bureaucratic plan. They found neither Chartism nor Communism nor the October revolution. A revolution remains for them today, as before, an alien and hostile matter, if not indeed “mere childishness.”
In his polemics against opportunists, Lenin did not trouble himself, as is well known, with the manners of the salon. But his abusive epithets (“lackeys of the bourgeoisie”, “traitors”, “boot-lick souls”) expressed during many years a carefully weighed appraisal of the Webbs and the evangels of Fabianism – that is, of traditional respectability and worship for what exists. There can be no talk of any sudden change in the views of the Webbs during recent years. These same people who during the war support their bourgeoisie, and who accepted later at the hands of the King the title of Lord Passfield, have renounced nothing, and changed not at all, in adhering to Communism in a single, and moreover a foreign, country. Sidney Webb was Colonial Minister – that is, chief jailkeeper of British imperialism – in the very period of his life when he was drawing near to the Soviet bureaucracy, receiving material from its bureaus, and on that basis working upon this two-volume compilation.
As late as 1923, the Webbs saw no great difference between Bolshevism and Tzarism (see, for example, The Decay of Capitalist Civilization, 1923). Now, however, they have fully reorganized the “democracy” of the Stalin regime. It is needless to seek any contradiction here. The Fabians were indignant when the revolutionary proletariat withdrew freedom of activity from “educated” society, but they think it quite in the order of things when a bureaucracy withdraws freedom of activity from the proletariat. Has not this always been the function of the laborite’s workers’ bureaucracy? The Webbs swear, for example, that criticism in the Soviet Union is completely free. A sense of humor is not to be expected of these people. They refer with complete seriousness to that notorious “self-criticism” which is enacted as a part of one’s official duties, and the direction of which, as well as its limits, can always be accurately foretold.
Naïveté? Neither Engels nor Lenin considered Sidney Webb naive. Respectability rather. After all, it is a question of an established regime and of hospitable hosts. The Webbs are extremely disapproving in their attitude to a Marxian criticism of what exists. They consider themselves called to preserve the heritage of the October revolution from the Left Opposition. For the sake of completeness we observe that in its day the Labor Government in which Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb) held a portfolio refused the author of this work a visa to enter Great Britain. Thus Sidney Webb, who in those very days was working on his book upon the Soviet Union, is theoretically defending the Soviet Union from being undermined, but practically he is defending the Empire of His Majesty. In justice be it said that in both cases he remains true to himself.
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For many of the petty bourgeoisie who master neither pen nor brush, an officially registered “friendship” for the Soviet Union is a kind of certificate of higher spiritual interests. Membership in Freemason lodges or pacifist clubs has much in common with membership in the society of “Friends of the Soviet Union”, for it makes it possible to live two lives at once: an everyday life in a circle of commonplace interests, and a holiday life evaluating to the soul. From time to time the “friends” visit Moscow. They note down in their memory tractors, creches, Pioneers, parades, parachute girls – in a word, everything except the new aristocracy. The best of them close their eyes to this out of a feeling of hostility toward capitalist reaction. Andre Gide frankly acknowledges this:
“The stupid and dishonest attack against the Soviet Union has brought it about that we now defend it with a certain obstinacy.”
But the stupidity and dishonesty of one’s enemies is no justification for one’s own blindness. The working masses, at any rate, have need of clearsighted friends.
The epidemic sympathy of bourgeois radicals and socialist bourgeois for the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union has causes that are not unimportant. In the circle of professional politicians, notwithstanding all differences of program, there is always a predominance of those friendly to such “progress” as is already achieved or can easily be achieved. There are incomparably more reformers in the world than revolutionists, more accommodationists than irreconciables. Only in exceptional historic periods, when the masses come into movement, do the revolutionists emerge from their isolation, and the reformers become more like fish out of water.
In the milieu of the present Soviet bureaucracy, there is not a person who did not, prior to April 1917, and even considerably later, regard the idea of a proletarian dictatorship in Russia as fantastic. (At that time this “fantasy” was called … Trotskyism.) The older generation of the foreign “friends” for decades regarded as Realpolitiker to Russian Mensheviks, who stood for a “people’s front” with the liberals and rejected the idea of dictatorship as arrant madness. To recognize a dictatorship when it is already achieved and even bureaucratically befouled – that is a different matter. That is a matter exactly to the minds of these “friends.” They now not only pay their respects to the Soviet state, but even defined it against its enemies – not so much, to be sure, against those who yearn for the past, as against those who are preparing the future. Where these “friends” are active preparing, as in the case of the French, Belgian, English and other reformists, it is convenient to them to conceal their solidarity with the bourgeoisie under a concern for the defense of the Soviet Union. Where, on the other hand, they have unwillingly become defeatists, as in the case of the German and Austrian social patriots of yesterday, they hope that the alliance of France with the Soviet Union may help them settle with Hitler or Schussnigg. Leon Blum, who was an enemy of Bolshevism in its heroic epoch, and opened the pages of Le Populaire for the express purpose of publicly baiting the October revolution, would now not print a line exposing the real crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy. Just as the Biblical Moses, thirsting to see the face of Jehovah, was permitted to make his bow only to the rearward parts of the divine anatomy, so the honorable reformists, worshipers of the accomplished fact, are capable of knowing and acknowledging in a revolution only its meaty bureaucratic posterior.
The present communist “leaders” belong in essence to the same type. After a long series of monkey jumps and grimaces, they have suddenly discovered the enormous advantages of opportunism, and have seized upon it with the freshness proper to that ignorance which has always distinguished them. Their slavish and not always disinterested kowtowing to the upper circles in the Kremlin alone renders them absolutely incapable of revolutionary initiative. They answer critical arguments no otherwise than with snarling and barking; and, moreover, under the whip of the boss they wag their tails. This most unattractive aggregation, which in the hour of danger will scatter to the four winds, considers us flagrant “counterrevolutionists.” What of it? History, in spite of its austere character, cannot get along without an occassional farce.
The more honest or open-eyed of the “friends”, at least when speaking tete-a-tete, concede that there is a spot on the Soviet sun. But substituting a fatalistic for a dialectic analysis, they console themselves with the thought that “a certain” bureaucratic degeneration in the given conditions was historically inevitable. Even so! The resistance to this degeneration also has not fallen from the sky. A necessity has two ends: the reactionary and the progressive. History teaches that persons and parties which drag at the opposite ends of a necessity turn out in the long run on opposite sides of the barricade.
The final argument of the “friends” is that reactionaries will seize upon any criticism of the Soviet regime. That is indubitable! We may assume that they will try to get something for themselves out of the present book. When was it ever otherwise? The Communist Manifesto spoke scornfully of the fact that the feudal reaction tried to use against liberalism the arrows of socialist criticism. That did not prevent revolutionary socialism from following its road. It will not prevent us either. The press of the Communist International, it is true, goes so far as to assert that our criticism is preparing military intervention against the Soviets. This obviously means that the capitalist governments, learning from our works of the degeneration of the Soviet bureaucracy, will immediately equip a punitive expedition to avenge the trampled principles of October! The polemists of the Communist International are not armed with rapiers but wagon tongues, or some still less nimble instrument. In reality a Marxist criticism, which calls things by their real names, can only increase the conservative credit of the Soviet diplomacy in the eyes of the bourgeoisie.
It is otherwise with the working class and its sincere champions among the intelligentsia. Here our work will cause doubts and evoke distrust – not of revolutionaries, but of its usurpers. But that is the very goal we have set ourselves. The motor force of progress is truth and not lies.