A School of Social Revolution
First Published: Pravda May 15, 1918
Source: International Socialist Library No. 15, Revolutionary Essays by Bela Kun, B.S.P., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive
The counter-revolutionary forces have collected in force. It is quite comprehensible that, amongst the Russian proletarian masses, many should be awaiting the international revolution with impatience. Bolshevism is feeling the full pressure of persecution of the international counter-revolution because Bolshevism is the particular system of ideas which, represents the modern revolutionary movement. For the propertied classes, this system of ideas means deadly danger; for the Labour movement it is an inspiring and, creative force.
After the many buffetings of the war a considerable part of the Western European proletariat ended up in Russia. We may discover from the diplomatic notes of the German and Austrian Governments what these proletarians and workers have experienced and learnt.
We can see that the revolution has had an infectious influence upon these proletarians, from amongst whom large numbers have emigrated to Russia, when we consider certain phenomena, which might almost be called “mass phenomena.”
Naturalisation into citizenship of the Russian proletarian State is a result of the influence of the revolution, although in some cases that naturalisation was prompted not by revolutionary motives, but by a kind of Nazarenism. A mere passively-resisting attitude towards the predatory aims of the imperialists — mere horror — does not represent the awakening of revolutionary consciousness.
But that is not the reason to which we can attribute facts like the events at Neriansk. There, during the course of several days, five hundred Magyar proletarians and workers became naturalised as Russian citizens, and united against the counter-revolutionary bands of Semenov. Amongst these revolutionary volunteers are many who, at home, never took part in the Labour movement; and it is only the Russian revolution that has given them their Socialist education. Those who have participated in the propagandist work of the Social-Democratic parties cannot but agree that the educational significance of the revolution has attained unprecedented proportions.
Revolutions are the locomotives of history; not only in the objective sense, but also in the sense of their rapid development of the minds of the workers, within whom there takes place a process of deliberate re-examination of all previous values.
In this connection the letters received at the editorial and other offices of the foreign groups of the Russian Communist Party are not without interest. We shall quote a few passages from these letters to illustrate the educative influence, of the proletarian revolution. They were received by the newspaper “The Social Revolution,” the organ of the Hungarian Communist group.
Here, for example, is the letter of a working man — of a miner. He is writing to his wife at Budapest, and sending a copy of his letter to the editorial office. In Hungary he belonged neither to the Labour Party nor to a trade union. He is now living at Kolchugina, in Siberia. He writes to his wife, inter alia:
“I received your past-card from Budapest, saying you had sent me 100 kronen. I haven’t received them; but it doesn’t matter, as I am working here and can earn enough to live on. But I am very sorry for you: how can you all manage to live on a quarter of a pound of bread? We, at any rate, are living in free Russia. What grieves me is not that I have to work in the depths of a pit, but that you are suffering. It’s no good them writing in the papers that we’ve still got enough bread — we don't believe it! We know very well that not everyone is starving — Count Tisza and other gentlemen are not going hungry, of course, but the soldiers’ wives and children are. Their fathers, after shedding their blood, have been left to suffer in Siberia, while the children, thanks to the lords and ladies, are starving. Oh yes, the workers can perish; so long as Count Karolyi, Lukacs, Kraus, and others can fill their pockets, it doesn’t matter to them what happens to the wives and children of the men who were torn away from their families at the very beginning of the war to defend their “king and country.” Now everybody’s eyes are being opened, though. The capitalists can trumpet abroad as loudly as they like, that the Hungarian soldier was defending his fatherland: there aren’t many who will believe it. Why don’t they make peace? The Russian soldiers have all come back from the front. But the capitalists’ pockets, I suppose, are not yet full enough, and so they’ve got to fight to the last Hungarian soldier. I know it all, and so do others!“
This is the letter of a “latter-day revolutionist.”
Here is what workers write who at home took a more or less active part in the proletarian movement; two metal-workers from Budapest, at present employed at Linovka Station (Voronezh Province), who happened to receive one number of a newspaper published in Hungarian: “Your respected newspaper, after passing through hundreds of hands, has reached our remote little hamlet, where a few prisoners of war, amongst them Hungarians, are leading a monotonous existence. We read with great interest every line of the paper, and with every word there rose within us undying hatred and desire for vengeance — vengeance for those who have suffered agonies and poured out their blood on the fields of battle. . . . We longed for peace, and looked forward to returning. . . . But where shall we return? . . . You are quite right to say, honoured comrades, ‘from captivity to prison.’ But no, we cannot be blinded by ‘defence of the fatherland.’ . . . True, we weren't blind before, either: we were made to go. . . . ”
The following passage from another letter shows how exactly that process begins, and the minds of working men, which leads to a clear and intelligent adoption of Bolshevik tactics, and how the idea of an armed rising, so foreign to all the western Social-Democratic parties, enters into the soul of the proletariat: “I assure you that I will only return to Hungary if the social revolution breaks out at home. In that case I shall hasten at once with arms in my hands to assist my struggling brothers against the imperialists. In my own country I belonged to the Woodworkers’ Union, and here in Sarapul too.” Here is the letter of a wheelwright and a mason, working at Akhtirka; in Hungary they were active party workers and agitators. They have become real and true Bolsheviks, as their letter shows: “We are very glad that you (Hungarians) have joined the Bolsheviks. Our return home depends on a revolution there. All we ask of our comrades is to write us immediately what form of activity we should engage in while we are staying here.”
These extracts are in no way tendencious. They are snatches from letters taken from a very large correspondence. One may say that an overwhelming majority of the letters breathes forth not only a desire for peace on pacifist grounds, but also a will to, and expectation of, the proletarian revolution.
The mere appearance of this revolutionary will denotes a grave danger, not only for the capitalist class, but also for the opportunist Socialists. The revolution in Hungary will probably assume an anti-German character. German imperialism is the object of universal hatred amongst the Hungarian lower middle class, which, though not so numerous as in Russia, is still large enough to endow the revolution with a general nationalistic character.
But the school of the Russian revolution has created detachments which will be the grave-diggers of that nationalistic character, and may become the grave-diggers of capitalism. It would be difficult to imagine a school which taught better or more quickly. Those who hitherto had taken part in a Labour movement which was distorted by the lower middle class have now seen civil war at close quarters. Pacifism, which revolted against arms in general, and not against the arms only of the oppressors, has now lost its influence. In Russia the workers have learnt the usefulness of arms for attaining freedom, and the necessity of an armed rising for the purpose of conquering and swiftly shattering the power of the State.
The appearance of the grave-diggers of capitalism and social treachery will play its part; the Bolshevist advance guard is not only going to the help of the oncoming Hungarian revolution, but is itself preparing it for its work.