The following message to British workers, by Peter Kropotkin, was brought from Russia by Miss Margaret Bondfield, a member of the British Labour Delegation, who visited him at his home at Dmitrov, near Moscow. His criticism of Soviet rule and his appeal to the workers to stop the war against Russia will be read with interest.
It first appeared in Freedom July 1920
I have been asked whether I have not some message to send to the working men of the Western world? Surely, there is much to say about the current events in Russia, and much to learn from them. The message might be long. But I shall indicate only some main points.
First of all, the working men of the civilised world and their friends in the other classes ought to induce their Governments entirely to abandon the idea of an armed intervention in the affairs of Russia— whether open or disguised, whether military or in the shape of subventions to different nations.
Russia is now living through a revolution of the same depth and the same importance as the British nation underwent in 1639-1648, and France in 1789-1794; and every nation should refuse to play the shameful part that Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia played during the French Revolution.
Moreover, it must be kept in view that the Russian Revolution— while it is trying to build up a society where the whole produce of the joint efforts of Labour, technical skill and scientific knowledge should go entirely to the Commonwealth itself—is not a mere accident in the struggle of different parties. It is something that has been prepared by nearly a century of Communist and Socialist propaganda, since the times of Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier; and although the attempt at introducing the new society by means of the dictatorship of one party is apparently doomed to be a failure, it nevertheless must be recognised that the Revolution has already introduced into our everyday life new conceptions about the rights of Labour, its true position in society, and the duties of every citizen, which have come to stay.
Altogether, not only the working men, but all the progressive elements of the civilised nations ought to put a stop to the support hitherto given to the opponents of the Revolution. Not that there should be nothing to oppose in the methods of the Bolshevist Government! Far from that! But because every armed intervention of a foreign Power necessarily results in a reinforcement of the dictatorial tendencies of the rulers, and paralyses the efforts of those Russians who are ready to aid Russia, independently of the Government, in the reconstruction of its life on new lines.
The evils naturally inherent in party dictatorship have thus been increased by the war conditions under which this party maintained itself. The state of war has been an excuse for strengthening the dictatorial methods of the party, as well as its tendency to centralise every detail of life in the hands of the Government, with the result that immense branches of the usual activities of the nation have been brought to a standstill. The natural evils of State Communism are thus increased tenfold under the excuse that all misfortunes of our life are due to the intervention of foreigners.
Besides, I must also mention that a military intervention of the Allies, if it is continued, will certainly develop in Russia a bitter feeling against the Western nations, and this will some day be utilised by their enemies in possible future conflicts. Such a bitterness is already developing.
In short, it is high time that the West-European nations should enter into direct relations with the Russian nation. And in this direction you—the working classes and the advanced portions of all nations—ought to have your say.
One word more about the general question. A renewal of relations between the European and American nations and Russia certainly must not mean the admission of a supremacy of the Russian nation over those nationalities of which the empire of the Russian Tsars was composed. Imperial Russia is dead, and will not return to life. The future of the various provinces of which the empire was composed lies in the direction of a great Federation. The natural territories of the different parts of that Federation are quite distinct for those of us who are acquainted with the history of Russia, its ethnography, and its economic life; and all attempts to bring the constituent parts of the Russian Empire—Finland, the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Siberia, and so on—under one central rule are surely doomed to failure. The future of what was the Russian Empire is in the direction of a Federation of independent units. It would, therefore, be in the interest of all that the Western nations should declare beforehand that they are recognising the right of self-government for every portion of what was once the Russian Empire.
As to my own views on the subject, they go still further. I see the coming, in a near future, of a time when every portion of that Federation will itself be a federation of free rural communes and free cities; and I believe still that portions of Western Europe will soon take the lead in that direction.
Now, as regards our present economical and political situation—the Russian Revolution being a continuation of the two great Revolutions in England and in France—Russia is trying now to make a step in advance of where France stopped, when it came to realise in life what was described then as real equality (egalite de fait), that is economical equality.
Unfortunately, the attempt to make that step has been undertaken in Russia under the strongly-centralised Dictatorship of one party—the Social Democratic Maximalists; and the attempt was made on the lines taken in the utterly Centralist and Jacobinist conspiracy of Babeuf. About this attempt I am bound frankly to tell you that, in my opinion, the attempt to build up a Communist Republic on the lines of strongly-centralised State Communism under the iron rule of the Dictatorship of a party is ending in a failure. We learn in Russia how Communism cannot be introduced, even though the populations, sick of the old regime, opposed no active resistance to the experiment made by the new rulers.
The idea of Soviets, that is, of Labour and Peasant Councils, first promoted during the attempted revolution of 1905 and immediately realised by the revolution of February, 1917, as soon as the Tsar’s regime broke down—the idea of such councils controlling the political and economical life of the country is a grand idea. The more so as it leads necessarily to the idea of these Councils being composed of all those who take a real part in the production of national wealth by their own personal effort.
But so long as a country is governed by the dictatorship of a party, the Labour and Peasant Councils evidently lose all their significance. They are reduced to the passive role played in times past by “General States” and Parliaments, when they were convoked by the King and had to oppose an all-powerful King’s Council.
A Labour Council ceases to be a free and valuable adviser when there is no free Press in the country, and we have been in this position for nearly two years, the excuse for such conditions being the state of war. More than that, the Peasant and Labour Councils lose all their significance when no free electoral agitation precedes the elections, and the elections are made under the pressure of party dictatorship. Of course, the usual excuse is that a dictatorial rule was unavoidable as a means of combatting the old regime. But such a rule evidently becomes a formidable drawback as soon as the Revolution proceeds towards the building up of a new society on a new economic basis: it becomes a death sentence on the new construction.
The ways to be followed for overthrowing an already weakened Government and taking its place are well known from history, old and modern. But when it comes to build up quite new forms of life—especially new forms of production and exchange—without having any examples to imitate; when everything has to be worked out by men on the spot, then an all-powerful centralised Government which undertakes to supply every inhabitant with every lamp-glass and every match to light the lamp proves absolutely incapable of doing that through its functionaries, no matter how countless they may be—it becomes a nuisance. It develops such a formidable bureaucracy that the French bureaucratic system, which requires the intervention of forty functionaries to sell a tree felled by a storm on a public road, becomes a trifle in comparison. This is what we now learn in Russia. And this is what you, the working men of the West, can and must avoid by ail means, since you care for the success of a social reconstruction, and sent here your delegates to see how a Social Revolution works in real life.
The immense constructive work that is required from a Social Revolution cannot be accomplished by a central Government, even if it had to guide it in its work something more substantial than a few Socialist and Anarchist booklets. It requires the knowledge, the brains, and the willing collaboration of a mass of local and specialised forces, which alone can cope with the diversity of economical problems in their local aspects. To sweep away that collaboration and to trust to the genius of party dictators is to destroy all the independent nuclei, such as Trade Unions (called in Russia “Professional Unions”) and the local distributive Co-operative organisations—turning them into bureaucratic organs of the party, as is being done now. But this is the way not to accomplish the Revolution; the way to render its realisation impossible. And this is why I consider it my duty earnestly to warn you from taking such a line of action.
Imperialist conquerors of all nationalities may desire that the populations of the ex-empire of Russia should remain in miserable economic conditions as long as possible, and thus be doomed to supply Western and Middle Europe with raw stuffs, while the Western manufacturers, producing manufactured goods, should cash all the benefits that the population of Russia might otherwise obtain from their work. But the working classes of Europe and America, and the intellectual nuclei of these countries, surely understand that only by the force of conquest could they keep Russia in that subordinate condition. At the same time, the sympathies with which our Revolution was met all over Europe and America show that you were happy to greet in Russia a new member of the international comradeship of nations. And you surely soon see that it is in the interest of the workers of all the world that Russia should issue as soon as possible from the conditions that paralyse now her development.
A few words more. The last war has inaugurated new conditions of life in the civilised world. Socialism is sure to make considerable progress, and new forms of a more independent life surely will be soon worked out on the lines of local political independence and free scope in social reconstruction, either in a pacific way, or by revolutionary means if the intelligent portions of the civilised nations do not join in the task of an unavoidable reconstruction.
But the success of this reconstruction will depend to a great extent upon the possibility of a close co-operation of the different nations. For this co operation the labouring classes of all nations must be closely united, and for that purpose the idea of a great International of all working men of the world must be renewed; not in the shape of a Union directed by one single party, as was the case in the Second International, and is again in the Third. Such Unions have, of course, full reason to exist, but besides them and uniting them all ‘there must be a Union of all the Trade Unions of the world—of all those who produce the wealth of the world—united, in order to free the production of the world from its present enslavement to Capital.