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  • Published in Theory
British soldiers in the First World War.

British soldiers in the First World War. Photo: Vimeo

Trotsky's polemic against gradualness shows Britain's history has been shaped by conflict and revolution. This 'key text' is introduced by Alex Snowdon

Leon Trotsky was one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and, for several years afterwards, a leading figure in the socialist government of Russia's new workers' state. He was also a prominent voice in the international communist movement that mushroomed after 1917, writing about a wide range of international topics. Analysis and action went together: he commented on major political developments with a view to influencing socialists in the countries he was writing about, hoping to influence the strategy and tactics they would pursue. 
Britain had been shaken by strike waves and demonstrations after the end of World War One. In 1919 the country came closer to a revolutionary situation than at any other time in the 20th century. There was a period of fluctuating, sometimes dramatic, class struggle until the defeat of the General Strike in 1926. 
This was part of a wider European upsurge that involved a number of countries, most significantly Germany, experiencing revolutionary upheavals. This wider upsurge was also the context for the growth of Communist Parties and for intense debates in the labour movement, which involved large reformist parties (like Britain's Labour Party) as well as the newer Communist Parties. In Britain the Communist Party was launched in 1920 and played a dynamic role in working class movements for the next several years, though it didn't have more than a few thousand activists. 
Trotksy's published writings on Britain in the 1920s include the 1925 article re-published below. He begins by mocking the then Tory prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, who was a huge figure in interwar British politics, and responds to Baldwin's dismissal of socialist ideas. Baldwin had returned to 10 Downing Street after the collapse of the first ever (but short-lived) Labour government in the previous year. At the time of Baldwin's speech - to which Trotsky was responding - there was consequently a fair amount of confidence and bounce in Tory ranks, but also an anxiety that stemmed both from several years of working class resistance and the spectre of communism emanating from Russia. 
Trotsky moves on to the substance of his article. This is partly to do with the nature of how modern capitalist societies develop, and especially the way that wars and economic crises are engendered by them. But it also concerns something much more hopeful: if capitalism makes war and crisis inevitable, it also makes resistance - and indeed revolution - inevitable. And Britain - for all its fabled 'gradualness' - is not immune to that. 
Trotsky documents how Britain's history is not the story of peaceful, gradual progress that Baldwin espoused, but a history of war, conquest, conflict and class struggle. He is especially scathing about the acutely violent record of British colonialism. He also notes how the English Revolution of the 1640s had been a vital motor of historical progress in Britain, a fact obscured by Tory fantasies of timelessness and social peace. 
Trotsky goes on to sketch a radical, and truly bracing, alternative popular history of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which highlights the impact of wider international changes (especially the French Revolution) and the role of popular movements and workers' struggles. In this historical framework, Trotsky reasserts Marx's central idea that history is driven forward by class struggle and that hope lies in the self-emancipation of the working class. This, he shows us, is as relevant to supposedly 'gradual' and 'peaceful' Britain as to anywhere.

Mr Baldwin and... gradualness

On 12th March of this year [1925] Mr. Baldwin, the British prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, delivered a long speech on Britain's future to a Conservative audience at Leeds. This speech, like many other of Mr. Baldwin's public utterances, was pervaded with anxiety. We consider that from the point of view of Mr. Baldwin's party such anxiety is entirely well-founded. We for our part shall approach these same questions from rather a different angle. Mr. Baldwin is afraid of socialism and in his demonstrations of the dangers and difficulties attending the road to socialism Mr. Baldwin made a somewhat unexpected attempt to gain support from the author of this book. This gives us, we hope, a right to reply to Mr. Baldwin without risk of being accused of interfering in Great Britain's internal affairs.

Mr. Baldwin considers, and not without reason, that the greatest danger to the regime he supports is the growth of the Labour Party. He hopes, of course, for victory, since 'our (the Conservatives') principles are in closer accord with the character and traditions of our people than any traditions or any principles of violent change.' The Conservative leader nonetheless reminds his audience that the verdict of the last election was not the final one. Mr. Baldwin is convinced, of course, that socialism is not practicable. But as he is in a rather confused state of mind and as, in addition, he is addressing an audience already convinced of the impracticability of socialism, Mr. Baldwin's arguments to this effect are not distinguished by great originality. He reminds his Conservative audience that children are born neither free, nor equal nor as brothers. He addresses this question to each mother at the meeting: were her children horn equal? The self-satisfied laughter of his audience was his answer. To be sure, the mass of the British people had heard the same answer from the spiritual great-great-grandfathers of Baldwin, in reply to their demand for the right to freedom of belief and to be allowed to set up their church as they wished. The same arguments were later brought against equality before a court, and later, not at all so long ago, against universal suffrage. People are not born equal, Mr. Baldwin; why then do they have to answer before one and the same court, according to the same law? One could have objected to Mr. Baldwin that although children are not born exactly alike a mother normally feeds her dissimilar children alike at the table, and makes sure, if she can, that they all have a pair of shoes on their feet. A bad stepmother, of course, might well act differently. One could have explained to Mr. Baldwin that socialism is concerned not with the creation of anatomical. physiological and psychical equality, but tries only to guarantee all people similar material conditions of existence. But we shall not weary our readers with further exposition of these elementary ideas: Mr. Baldwin can himself, if he is interested, turn to the relevant sources; and as his world-outlook inclines him towards ancient and purely British authors we could recommend to him old Robert Owen who, it is true, had no understanding whatsoever of the class dynamics of capitalist society, but in whose works one may find most valuable observations regarding the advantages of socialism.

But the socialist aim, though reprehensible enough in itself, does not of course frighten Mr. Baldwin so much as a violent road towards it. Mr. Baldwin perceives two tendencies in the Labour Party. One of them is, in his words, represented by Mr. Sidney Webb who has recognized 'the inevitability of gradualness'. But there are leaders of another kind, like Cook, or Wheatley, especially since he left his ministerial post, who believe in force. According to Mr. Baldwin the responsibility of government has in general had a salutary influence on the Labour Party leaders and has compelled them to recognize, along with Webb, the futile character of revolutionary methods and the advantages of gradualness. At this point Mr. Baldwin made a sort of god-like excursion into Russian affairs to enrich his meagre arsenal of arguments against British socialism. Let us quote the report in The Times:

The Prime Minister quoted Trotsky, who, he said, had discovered in the last few years and written 'that the more easily did the Russian proletariat pass through the revolutionary crisis, the harder becomes now its constructive work.' Trotsky had also said what no leader of the extremists had yet said in Britain: 'We must learn to work more efficiently. 'He wondered how many votes would be cast for a revolution in Britain if people were told that the only (?) result would be that they would have to work more efficiently. [Laughter and cheers.] Trotsky said in his book: 'In Russia before and after the revolution, there existed and exists unchanged Russian human nature'(?!) Trotsky, the man of action, studied realities. He had slowly and reluctantly discovered what Mr. Webb discovered two years ago -- the 'inevitability of gradualness'. [Laughter and applause.]

Of course it is very flattering to be recommended to a Conservative audience at Leeds; a mortal can scarcely ask for more. It is nearly as flattering to fall into a direct association with Mr. Sidney Webb, the prophet of gradualness. But, before accepting this honour, there are one or two clarifications we should like from Mr. Baldwin.

It had never entered the heads of either our teachers or ourselves, even before the experience of 'the last few years', to deny the fact of gradual development in either nature or in human society, in its economy, politics or morals. We would merely like to make some qualifications about the nature of this gradualness. Thus, to take an example close to Mr. Baldwin as a protectionist, let us consider the fact that Germany, which gradually emerged into the arena of world competition in the final quarter of the last century, became an extremely threatening rival to Britain. It is well known that it was along this path that matters came to war. Does Baldwin regard the war as a manifestation of gradualness? During the war the Conservative Party demanded 'the destruction of the Huns' and the toppling of the German Kaiser by the force of the British sword. From the standpoint of the theory of gradualness it might have been better to rely upon an improvement in German morality and a gradual Improvement in her relations with Britain. However in the period from 1914 to 1918 Mr. Baldwin, as far as we recall, categorically rejected the applicability of gradualness to Anglo-German relations and endeavoured to settle the matter by means of vast quantities of high explosive. We submit that dynamite and lyddite can scarcely be regarded as the proper instruments of an evolutionary-conservative style of operation.

Pre-war Germany, for her part, by no means emerged in shining armour one fine morning from the waves. No, she had developed gradually out of her former economic insignificance. However there were one or two breaks in this gradual process; thus we have the wars Prussia waged against Denmark in 1864, against Austria in 1866 and against France in 1870; these played a colossal role in increasing her' might and provided her with the possibility of triumphantly starting out along the path of world competition with Britain.

Wealth, the result of human labour, is without doubt created with a certain gradualness. But Mr. Baldwin would agree that the years of the war caused a gigantic upward leap in the development of the United States. The gradualness of accumulation was abruptly upset by the catastrophe of a war that caused the impoverishment of Europe and the feverish enrichment of America.

A 'leap' in his own personal life was recounted by Mr. Baldwin himself in a parliamentary speech devoted to the trade unions. As a young man he managed a factory which had been handed down from generation to generation, where workers were born and died and where, in consequence, the principle of patriarchal 'gradualness' held complete sway.

But a miners' strike broke out, the factory could not operate owing to the shortage of coal and Mr. Baldwin found himself forced to close it down and release 'his' thousand workers to the four corners of the world. Certainly Baldwin can plead the ill-will of the miners who compelled him to infringe a sacred Conservative principle. The miners could probably have cited in their defence the ill-will of their employers, who had compelled them to call a colossal strike that brought a break in the monotonous process of exploitation. But subjective promptings are in the last resort immaterial: for us it is enough to know that gradualness in various spheres of life goes hand in hand with catastrophes, breaks and upward and downward leaps. The long process of competition between the two states gradually prepares the war, the discontent of exploited workers gradually prepares a strike, the bad management of a bank gradually prepares bankruptcy.

The honourable Conservative leader may reply, it is true, that such breaks in gradualness like war and bankruptcy, the impoverishment of Europe and the enrichment of America at her expense, are all most regrettable and that in general it would be better to avoid them. The only objection to this is that the history of nations is in considerable part a history of wars and the history of economic development is embellished with bankruptcy statistics. Mr. Baldwin would probably say that these are properties of human nature. We might concede this, but it still means that the 'nature' of man couples gradual development with catastrophic leaps.

However, the history of mankind is not only a history of wars but also a history of revolutions. The seignorial rights which grew up over centuries and which economic development then took centuries to undermine were swept away in France at one stroke on 4th August 1789. On 9th November 1918 the German revolution annihilated German absolutism, which had been undermined by the struggle of the proletariat and brought to heel by the victories of the Allies. We have already recalled that one of the war slogans of the British government of which Mr. Baldwin was a member was 'War till the total destruction of German militarisin!' Doesn't Mr. Baldwin think, then, that in so far as the catastrophe of the war -- with a little assistance from Mr. Baldwin himself -- prepared for a revolutionary catastrophe in Germany, all this took place with no little detriment to the principle of historical gradualness? Of course one can object that German militarism, and the Kaiser's ill-will, were both also to blame here. We will gladly believe that had Mr. Baldwin created the world he would have populated it with the most benevolent Kaisers and the most kind-hearted forms of militarism. But such an opportunity did not present itself to the British prime minister; and what is more we have heard from him that people, including Kaisers, are born neither equal nor good nor as brothers. One has to take the world as it is. Moreover: if it is true that the rout of German imperialism was a good thing then it must be recognized that the German revolution which completed the work of the military defeat was also a good thing; that is to say, that a catastrophic overthrow of what had taken shape gradually, was a good thing.

Mr. Baldwin may, it is true, object that all this has no direct bearing on Britain and that only in that chosen country has the principle of gradualness found its legitimate expression. But if this is so then it was pointless for Mr. Baldwin to refer to my words, which referred to Russia, and thus to impart a universal, general, absolute character to the principle of gradualness. My political experience, at least, does not confirm this. If my memory serves me right three revolutions have taken place in Russia; in 1905, in February 1917 and in October 1917. As regards the February revolution a certain modest assistance was provided by Buchanan (a man not unknown to Mr. Baldwin) who evidently calculated then (with the knowledge of his government) that a little revolutionary catastrophe in Petrograd would be more useful to Great Britain than all Rasputin's [1] gradualness.

But is it in the end true that 'the character and history of the British people' is so decisively and unconditionally permeated with the Conservative traditions of gradualness? Is it true that the British people is so hostile to 'violent changes'? The whole history of Britain is above all a history of violent changes that the British ruling classes have wrought in the lives of other peoples. For example, it would be interesting to know whether the seizures of India or Egypt can be interpreted in terms of the principle of gradualness? The policy of the British propertied classes in relation to India is most candidly expressed in Lord Salisbury's words: 'India must be bled!' It is not out of place to recall that Salisbury was the leader of the same party that is today led by Mr. Baldwin. To this one must add in parenthesis that, as a result of the excellently organized conspiracy of the bourgeois press, the British people do not in fact know what is being done in India (and we are in what is called a democracy. Perhaps we may recall the history of ill-fated Ireland, which is particularly rich in examples of the peaceful, evolutionary methods of operation of the British ruling classes?

As far as we remember the subjugation of South Africa did not evoke protests from Mr. Baldwin, and when General Roberts' forces broke the defensive front of the Boer settlers, the latter could scarcely have found a very convincing demonstration of gradualness in that. All this, to be sure, relates to Britain's extemal history. But it is nevertheless strange that the principle of evolutionary gradualness, which is recommended to us as a universal precept, ceases to operate beyond the confines of' Great Britain -- on the frontiers of China when she had to be forced by war to buy opium, on the frontiers of Turkey when Mosul had to be taken from her, and on the frontiers of Persia and Afghanistan when submission to Britain had to be imposed on them. Is it not possible to draw from all this the conclusion that the greater the success with which Britain applied force to other peoples, the greater the degree of 'gradualness' she managed to realize within her own frontiers? Indeed it is! Britain, over three centuries, conducted an uninterrupted succession of wars directed at an extending her arena of exploitation, removing foreign riches, killing foreign commercial competition and annihilating foreign naval forces, all by means of piracy and violence against other nations, and thereby enriching the British governing classes. A diligent investigation of the facts and their inner linkages leads to the inescapable conclusion that the British governing classes managed to avoid revolutionary shocks within their country in so far as they were successful at increasing their own material power by means of wars and shocks of all sorts in other countries. In this way did they gain the possibility of restraining the revolutionary indignation of the masses through timely, and always very niggardly, concessions. But such a conclusion, which is completely irrefutable in itself, proves the exact opposite of what Baldwin wanted to prove, for the very history of Britain testifies in practice that 'peaceful development' can only be ensured by means of a succession of wars, colonial acts of violence and bloody shocks. This is a strange form of 'gradualness'!

A fairly well-known populariser of British history, Gibbins, writes in his outline of modern British history: 'In general -- though, of course, there are exceptions to this -- the guiding principle of British foreign policy has been the support for political freedom and constitutional government.' This sentence is truly remarkable; at the same time as being deeply official, 'national' and traditional-sounding, it leaves no room for the hypocritical doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of other nations; at the same time it testifies to the fact that Britain supported constitutional movements in other countries only in so far as they were advantageous to her commercial and other interests. But on the other hand, as the inimitable Gibbins says, 'there are exceptions to this rule'. The entire history of Britain is depicted for the edification of her people (the doctrine of non-intervention notwithstanding) as a glorious struggle of the British government for freedom throughout the world.

Every single new act of perfidy and violence -- the Opium War with China, the enslavement of Egypt, the Boer War, the intervention in support of Tsarist generals -- is interpreted as an exception to the rule. Thus there generally prove to be gaps in 'gradualness' both on the part of 'freedom' and the part of despotism. One can, of course, go further and say that violence in international relations is permissible and even inevitable, but that in relations between social classes it is reprehensible. But then there is no point in speaking of a 'natural law' of gradualness which supposedly governs the whole development of nature and society. Then one must simply say: an oppressed class is obliged to support the oppressor class of its own nation when the latter adopts violence for its own ends; but that the oppressed class has no right to use violence to ensure a better position for itself in a society based upon oppression. But this will be no longer a 'law of nature' but the law of the bourgeois criminal code. However even within the limits of Great Britain's own internal history the principle of gradual and peaceful development is by no means as prevalent as Conservative philosophers would have us believe. In the final analysis the whole of present-day Britain has come out of the revolution in the seventeenth century. In the great civil war of that era were born the Tories and Whigs who were to set their seals alternately on Britain's history for over three centuries. When Mr. Baldwin appeals to the conservative traditions of British history, we must permit ourselves to remind him that the tradition of the Conservative Party itself is based firmly in the revolution of the middle of the seventeenth century. Similarly the reference to the 'character of the British people' forces us to recall that this character was beaten into shape by the hammer of the civil war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. [2]

The character of the Independents: petty bourgeois traders, artisans, free farmers, small landed gentry, businesslike, devout, economical, hard-working and enterprising, this character collided violently with the character of the idle, dissolute and haughty governing classes of old England: the court aristocracy, the titled state bureaucracy and the bishops. And yet both the former and the latter were Englishmen! With a heavy military hammer, on the anvil of civil war, Oliver Cromwell forged that same national character which over two and a half centuries ensured gigantic advantages in the world for the British bourgeoisie. Only later, at the close of the nineteenth century, was it to reveal itself as too conservative, even from the standpoint of capitalist development. It is clear that the struggle of the Long Parliament against the tyranny of Charles I and Cromwell's severe dictatorship had been prepared by Britain's previous history. But this means, simply, that a revolution is not made to order but grows organically out of the conditions of social development, and forms at least as inevitable a stage in the development of relations between the classes of one and the same nation as does war in the development of relations between organized nations. Perhaps Mr. Baldwin can find theoretical consolation in this gradualness of preparation?

Conservative old ladies -- including Mrs. Snowden, who has recently discovered that the Royal family is the most hard-working class in society -- must shudder at nights when they remember the execution of Charles 1. And yet even the reactionary Macaulay came close to an understanding of that event:

Those who had him in their grip (he says) were not midnight stabbers. What they did they did in order that it might be a spectacle to heaven and to earth, and that it might be held in everlasting remembrance. They enjoyed keenly the very scandal which they gave. That the ancient constitution and the public opinion of England were directly opposed to regicide made regicide seem strangely fascinating to a party bent on effecting a complete political and social revolution. In order to accomplish their purpose, it was necessary that they should first break in pieces every part of the machinery of government; and this necessity was rather agreeable than painful to them ... A revolutionary tribunal was created. That tribunal pronounced Charles a tyrant, a murderer, and a public enemy; and his head was severed from his shoulders before thousands of spectators in front of the Banqueting Hall of his own palace. [3]

From the standpoint of the Puritans to break up all sections of the old government machine, the fact that Charles Stuart was an extravagant, lying and cowardly scoundrel is completely secondary. Not only Charles 1, but royal absolutism itself was dealt a mortal blow by the Puritans, the fruits of which are enjoyed to this day by the preachers of parliamentary gradualness.

The role of revolution in the political and social development in general of Britain is not however limited to the seventeenth century. It could be said -- although this might seem paradoxical -- that all Britain's subsequent development has taken place in the train of European revolutions. We shall give here merely an overall summary of the main elements which may prove to be of some use not only to Mr. Baldwin.

The French Revolution gave a powerful thrust to the development of democratic tendencies in Britain and above all to the labour movement, which was driven underground by the Combination Laws of 1799. [4] The war against revolutionary France was 'popular' only among the governing classes; the popular masses sympathized with the French Revolution and expressed their indignation against the Pitt government. The creation of the British trade unions was to a large extent the result of the influence of the French revolution on the labouring masses of Britain.

The triumph of reaction on the continent, which strengthened the position of the landlords, led in 1815 to the restoration of the Bourbons in France and the introduction of the Corn Laws in Britain.

The July Revolution of 1830 [5] in France gave an impetus to the first electoral Reform Bill of 1831 in Britain: a bourgeois revolution on the continent produced a bourgeois reform in the British Isles.

The radical reorganization of the administration of Canada, giving much greater autonomy, was carried out only after the rising in Canada of 1837-1838. [6]

The revolutionary movement of Chartism led in 1844-1847 to the introduction of the ten-hour working day, and in 1846 to the repeal of the Corn Laws. The defeat of the revolutionary movement on the continent in 1848 not only meant the decline of the Chartist movement but put a brake on the democratisation of the British parliament for a long time afterwards.

The electoral reform of 1867 [7] was preceded by the Civil War in the United States. When in 1861 war flared up in America between the North and the South, British workers demonstrated their sympathy with the Northern states, while the sympathies of the ruling classes were wholly on the side of the slave-owners. It is instructive to note that the Liberal Palmerston, the so-called 'Firebrand Palmerston', and many of his colleagues including the notorious Gladstone, were in sympathy with the South and were quick to recognize the Southern states as belligerents rather than insurgents. Warships were built for the Southerners in British yards. The North nevertheless won and this revolutionary victory on American territory gained the vote for a section of the British working class (the 1867 Act). In Britain, incidentally, the reform was accompanied by a stormy movement which led to the 'July Days' of 1866, when major disorders lasted for forty-eight hours.

The defeat of the 1848 revolution had weakened the British workers but the Russian Revolution of 1905 immediately strengthened them. As a result of the 1906 General Election the Labour Party formed for the first time a strong parliamentary group of 42 members. In this the influence of the 1905 revolution was clear!

In 1918, even before the end of the war, a new electoral reform was passed in Britain which considerably enlarged the ranks of working class voters, and allowed women to participate in elections for the first time. Even Mr. Baldwin would probably not begin to deny that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was an important stimulus to this reform. The British bourgeois considered that a revolution could be avoided in this way. It follows that even for passing reforms, the principle of gradualness is insufficient and a real threat of revolution is necessary.

If we look back in this way over the history of Britain for the last century and a half in the context of the general European and world development it transpires that Britain exploited other countries not only economically but also politically, by cutting its own political costs' at the cost of the civil wars of the nations of Europe and America.

So what was the meaning of those two phrases that Mr. Baldwin extracted from my book in order to counterpose them to the policy of the revolutionary representatives of the British proletariat? It is not hard to show that the clear and simple meaning of my words was the exact opposite of what Mr. Baldwin was looking for. The more easily the Russian proletariat took power the greater were the obstacles it mef on the path of socialist construction. Yes, I said this and I repeat it. Our old governing classes were economically and politically insignificant. Our parliamentary and democratic traditions hardly existed. It was easier for us to tear the masses away from the bourgeoisie's influence and overturn their rule. But precisely because our bourgeoisie had appeared later and had done little, we received a small inheritance. We are now obliged to lay down roads, build bridges and schools, teach adults to read and write and so forth, that is to carry out the main bulk of the economic and cultural work which had been carried out by the bourgeois regime in the older capitalist countries.

It was in exactly this sense that I said that the easier that it was for us to deal with the bourgeoisie the more difficult the business of socialist construction. But this direct political theorem pre-supposes its converse: the richer and more cultured a country and the older its parliamentary-democratic traditions the harder it is for the communist party to take power; but the faster and the more successfidly will the work of socialist construction proceed after the conquest of power. Put more concretely, the overturn of the British bourgeoisie is no easy task;_ it does require a necessary 'gradualness', i.e. serious preparation; but once having taken control of state power, the land, the industrial, commercial and banking apparatus, the proletariat of Britain will be able to carry out the re-organization of the capitalist economy into a socialist one with far less sacrifices, far more success and at a much quicker pace. Such is the converse theorem, which I have more than once had occasion to set out and prove, and which has the most direct bearing on the question which concerns Mr. Baldwin.

That, however, is not all. When I spoke of the difficulties of socialist construction I had in mind not only the backwardness of our own country but also the gigantic opposition from outside. Mr. Baldwin probably knows that the British government, of which he was a member, spent about £100 million on military intervention and the blockade of Soviet Russia. The object of these costly measures, let us recall in passing, was the overthrow of Soviet power: the British Conservatives, as also the British Liberals (at least at that time) fuiffly rejected the principle of 'gradualness' in relation to the Workers' and Peasants' Republic and tried to settle a historical question by inflicting a catastrophe on it. It is sufficient to quote this one point to establish that the whole philosophy of gradualness has an extraordinary resemblance to the morality of those nionks of Heine's who drink wine themselves, while recommending water to their flock. [8]

Be that as it may, the Russian worker, who was the first to seize power, found against him first Germany and then all the countries of the Entente, led by Britain and France. The British proletariat when it takes power will have against it neither the Russian Tsar nor the Russian bourgeoisie. On the contrary it will be able to find support from the gigantic material and human resources of our Soviet Union, for -- and this we shall not conceal from Mr. Baldwin -- the cause of the British proletariat is at least as much our cause as the cause of the Russian bourgeoisie was and remains the cause of the British Conservatives.

My remarks about the difficulties of our socialist construction are interpreted by the British prime minister as if I had meant: the game was not worth the candle. Yet my point had exactly the opposite sense: our difficulties flow from an international situation that is unfavourable to us, as the pioneers of socialism; by surmounting these difficulties we are changing the situation to the advantage of the proletariat of other countries. Thus not a single one of our revolutionary efforts fails to have an effect on the 'international balance of forces.

There is no doubt that, as Mr. Baldwin points out, we are striving for a greater productivity of labour. Without this the upsurge in the welfare and culture of the people would be inconceivable, and in this lies the basic goal of communism. But the Russian worker is today working for himself. Having taken into their hands an economy that had been devastated -- first by the imperialist war, then by the Civil War aggravated by intervention and blockade- the Russian workers have now managed to bring their industry, which was almost defunct in 1920-21, up to an average of 60% of its pre-war productivity. This achievement, however modest it might be when compared with our objectives, represents an undoubted and tangible success. If the £100 million expended by Britain in attempting a catastrophic overturn had been invested, as a loan or as concession capital, into the Soviet economy for its gradual uplift we should by now undoubtedly have surpassed the pre-war level, paid high interest rates to British capital and, what is most important, we would have provided a wide and ever expanding market for it. It is not our fault that Mr. Baldwin has violated the principle of gradualness precisely where he should not have done so. But even given the present, still very low level of our industry the workers' position has considerably improved in comparison with recent years. When we reach the pre-war level -- and this is the task of the next two to three years -- the position of our workers will be incomparably better than it was before the war.

This is the reason, and the only reason, why we consider ourselves entitled to call upon the proletariat of Russia to raise the productivity of labour. It is one thing to work in plants, factories, shipyards and mines belonging to capitalists but quite another to work in one's own. There's the big difference, Mr. Baldwin! And when British workers take control of the powerful means of production that have been created by themselves and their forefathers they will try with every effort to raise the productivity of labour. British industry greatly needs this since despite its lofty achievements, it is entangled in the mesh of its own past. Baldwin seemingly realizes this; at any rate in his speech he says: 'We owe our position and our place in the world largely to the fact that we were the first nation to endure the pangs which brought the industrial age into the world; but we are also paying the price of that privileged priority, and the price in part is our badly planned and congested towns, our back-to-back houses, our ugly factories and our smoke-laden atmosphere'. Here one must also add the fragmentation of British industry, its technical conservatism, and its organizational rigidity. For precisely this reason British industry is succumbing to German and American industry. For its salvation it needs a broad and bold reorganization. It is necessary to look upon the soil and subsoil of Britain as the basis for a single economic system. Only in this way can the coal industry be reconstructed on a healthy footing. Britain's electrical industry is distinguished by its fragmented and backward character; attempts to reorganize it have at every step faced the opposition of private interests. Not only are British cities, by their historical origin, irrationally planned, but all British industry has 'gradually' piled itself up, devoid of system or plan. New life can be poured into it only by tackling it as a single whole. But this is inconceivable while private ownership of the means of production is preserved.

The main aim of socialism is to raise the economic strength of the people. Only upon this basis is it possible to build a more cultured, a more harmonious and happier human society. If Mr. Baldwin has, despite his sympathies for old British industry, been compelled to recognize that the new capitalist forms -- the trusts and syndicates -- represent a step forward, then we consider that a single socialist combine of industry represents a gigantic step forward in comparison with capitalist trusts. But such a programme cannot be realized without the transfer of all the means of production into the hands of the working class, that is to say, without the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Baldwin himself recalls the 'titanic forces let loose by the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century, which changed the face of the country and all the features of our national life'. Why does Baldwin in this instance speak about revolution and not of gradual development? Because at the end of the eighteenth century there took place within a short space of time fundamental changes which led, in particular, to the expropriation of the petty industrialists. To all those who pay attention to the essential logic of the historical process, it should be clear that the industrial i. evolution of the eighteenth century, which regenerated Great Britain from top to bottom, would have been impossible without the political revolution of the seventeenth century. Without a revolution in the name of bourgeois rights and bourgeois enterprise, and against aristocratic privilege and genteel sloth, that great spirit of technical innovation would not have been aroused and there would have been nobody to apply it to economic ends. The political revolution of the seventeenth century, which had grown out of the entire previous development, prepared for the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century.

Now at this moment Britain, like all capitalist countries, needs an economic revolution far surpassing, in its historical significance, the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. But this future economic revolution -- the rebuilding of the whole economy according to a single socialist plan -- cannot be achieved without a political revolution first. Private ownership of the means of production today presents a far greater obstacle on the path of economic development than the craft privileges, which were a form of petty bourgeois property, presented in their time. As the bourgeoisie under no circumstances will renounce its property rights voluntarily, it is necessary that a bold revolutionary force must be set to work. History has not yet thought up any other method. And there will be no exception in the case of Britain.

As for the second quotation ascribed to me by Mr. Baldwin, here I find myself in the greatest perplexity. I firmly deny that I could have said anywhere or at any time that there exists some unalterable 'Russian nature' against which revolution was powerless. Where is this quotation from? I know from long experience that not all men, not even all prime ministers, quote with complete precision. By complete chance I came across a passage in my book Problems of Cultural Work which deals fully with the question which concerns us. I quote it in full:

What are the grounds for our hopes of victory? The first is that criticism and initiative has been aroused in the popular masses. Through the revolution our people have opened themselves up a window on Europe -meaning by 'Europe' culture -- just as two hundred or so years before, Peter's Russia opened not a window but a ventilator on Europe for the top layers of the noble and bureaucratic statesmen. Those passive qualities of humility and meekness which the official or voluntarily idiotic ideologues declared to be the specific, immutable and sacred qualities of the Russian people but in practice were merely the expression of its slavish, downtrodden state and its isolation from culture -- those wretched and shameful qualities received a mortal blow in October 1917. This does not of course mean that we no longer carry the heritage of the past with us. We do and shall continue to for a long time yet. But a great turning-point, not only materially, but also psychologically, has been passed. No one any longer dares to recommend the Russian people to build their destiny upon the precepts of humility, submissiveness and long-suffering. No, the virtues that are henceforth entering ever more deeply into the people's consciousness are: criticism, initiative and collective creativity. And upon this, the greatest conquest of the national character rests above all our hope of success in all our work.

This, as we see, has very little similarity to what Mr. Baldwin ascribes to me. It should be said in mitigation that the British Constitution does not oblige prime ministers to quote correctly. And as for the precedents that play such a major part in British life there is certainly no shortage of them -- just how many false quotations is one William Pitt good for?

It may be objected -- what is the point of discussing revolution with a Tory leader? What importance can the historical philosophy of a Conservative Prime Minister have for the working class? But the fact of the matter is this: the philosophy of MacDonald, Snowden, Webb, and the other Labour Party leaders is merely an echo of Baldwin's historical theories. And in due course we shall demonstrate this, with all appropriate ... gradualness.


1 A peasant mystic who acquired a strong influence upon the Tsarina of Russia between 1911 and 1916. He was thought to be a German agent during the war and obtained high posts in the state for his nominees. He was assassinated in 1916 by a group of noblemen led by Prince Yusupov.

2 The popular titles given to the soldiers on the respective sides in the Civil War. 'Roundheads' was a term of abuse for the forces of Puritanism, Parliament and bourgeois revolution, referring to the fact that they cut their hair short. 'Cavaliers' were the more fashionably dressed, but less efficient, forces who supported the King.

3 Macaulay; History of England (1889 ed.), Chapter 1, p.63.

4 During the eighteenth century a number of legislative measures were passed forbidding trade union organization in different trades. The first general measure was passed in 1799 in the wake of other restrictions on the press and democratic rights, banning all trade unions and imposing fines and imprisonment. A further measure in 1800 slightly reduced the penalties. These laws were not repealed until 1824 and although trade unions were formed in this period and bargains even made with employers, workers' organizations could be crushed at the will of the capitalists.

5 On 26th July 1830 French King Charles X dissolved the parliament -- dominated by the liberal bourgeoisie -- in order to remove opposition to his measures against democracy and in favour of the old aristocracy. For three days the workers of Paris fought on the barricades while many soldiers refused to fire. The liberals led by Thiers took fright and proposed handing the throne to a nominee of the French people (i,e, bourgeoisie). Louis-Philippe Orleans was installed, representing the interests of the financial bourgeoisie as opposed to the aristocracy.

6 In 1791 Canada had been partitioned at the Ottawa River into Lower Canada, chiefly French, and the British area of Upper Canada, which included 'loyalists' who had fled from the American Revolution. In 1837 there was a revolt of French Canadians in Lower Canada led by Louis Papineau to establish an independent French state and another revolt in Upper Canada against ruling officialdom. After these revolts were put down the Earl of Durham was sent to Canada and though he was dismissed for showing too much leniency to the rebels his report was the basis of the 1840 Act of Union which unified the two parts of Canada under more rigorous British imperial rule.

7 Carried out by the Tories under the leadership of Lord Derby and Benjamin Disraeli in an unsuccessful bid to 'dish the Whigs' in the face of rising pressure for an extension of the franchise, including enormous demonstrations in Hyde Park. They passed the Second Reform Act extending the franchise to prosperous urban workers and continuing the process of granting more parliamentary representation to urban centres.

8. Not wishing to overstep the limits of decency, we shall refrain from enquiring, for example, how forged documents attributed to a foreign state and exploited for electoral purposes can be regarded as a tool of 'gradualness' in the development of so-called Christian morality in a civilized society. But without posing this delicate question we still cannot refrain from recollecting that, even according to Napoleon, the falsification of diplomatic documents was nowhere so widely practised as by British diplomacy. And undoubtedly technique has much advanced since then! -- L. D. T. [Editors note in 1975:- The 'Zinoviev' letter, published by the Tory Daily Mail during the 1924 election campaign after the fall of the first Labour Government. It purported to be from Zinoviev, then President of the Communist International, to the British party containing instructions about the military section of the British CP. In fact it was a crude forgery, concocted by White Russian emigrés in Paris and conveyed through agents connected with Conservative Central Office. Its aim was to weaken Labour's electoral chances, and this it did not by diminishing the Labour vote but by scaring pro-Liheral middle class voters into supporting the Tories. This allowed Baldwin to become Prime Minister again in 1925. (Recent evidence published in Britain has confirmed this save that it was composed in Riga rather than Paris. Note by ERC)]


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