‘Communism and Freemasonry’ by Leon Trotsky from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 115. December 16, 1922.
The development of capitalism did and does constantly widen the gulf of the antagonism between the classes. In the frame of politics it has always been the supreme ambition of the bourgeoisie to rub off the corners of these antagonisms. The history of the past century, unfolds a picture of a motley variety of means and methods employed by the bourgeoisie in this direction. Undisguised repression is only the last argument, applied openly only at critical moments, in “normal” times the art of bourgeois politics consists, so to speak, in removing from the order of the day the very question of bourgeois domination, to embellish it by political, juridical, moral, religious and aesthetic declarations and to create in this manner a social atmosphere of security for the present system.
It is both ridiculous and naive – if not stupid – to assume that the bourgeoisie carries on its politics only in parliaments and editorial articles. No, this policy is pursued also in the theatre, in the Church, in poetry as well as in the colleges and the elementary schools. The bourgeoisie stultifies the consciousness of the intermediate strata, and of considerable groups of the working class, by poisoning their minds and paralysing their willpower.
The backward and ungifted – Russian bourgeoisie least of all succeeded in this respect, and it paid a heavy price for its failure. The bare fist of Tsarism, unsupported by the complex system of camouflage, falsehood, deceit and illusions, proved inadequate in this respect. The Russian worker has become the ruler.
The German bourgeoisie, superb in the arts and sciences, has proved only one peg above the Russian bourgeoisie in the political sphere, the mainstays of German capitalism in the State were the Prussian Hohenzollern and the Prussian drill sergeant. And now the German bourgeoisie are the next candidates for historical destruction.
If one desires to study the methods and the means whereby the bourgeoisie hoodwinked the masses in the course of the centuries, one has only to turn the pages of history of the oldest capitalist countries – Great Britain and France. In these countries the ruling classes fortified their domination from decade to decade by erecting barriers on the path of the working class. The more formidable these barricades were the more perceptible they were.
The throne of the English bourgeoisie would have been smashed long ago had it not been surrounded by an atmosphere of respectability, bigotry and sportsmanship. The English policeman with his truncheon is the guardian of the very last ditch of bourgeois domination, and when matters will reach that stage, the bourgeoisie will be past salvation. A hundred times more important to the maintenance of the British regime is that imperceptible cobweb of respectability and cringing before bourgeois commandments and “proprieties” which stultifies the brain of the trade unionists, Labor Party leaders, and a considerable portion of the working class itself.
The French bourgeoisie in the political field exists chiefly on the interest of the capital of the Great French Revolution. The perversity and corruption of parliamentary democracy are sufficiently well known, one would think, to leave no room for illusions. But the bourgeoisie manages to turn this very corruption into its mainstay. How is it done? The bourgeoisie does it by means of its own socialists. The latter by their criticism and opposition collect a toll of confidence from the masses of the people, and at a critical moment they hand over to the capitalist state the bulk of the votes obtained by them. In this manner the socialist opposition becomes one of the most important pillars of the bourgeois domination. Just as the French bourgeoisie derives benefit not only from the Catholic Church but also from deriding it, so it presses into its service not only the parliamentary majority, but also its socialist, and at times even its anarchist critics. The most blatant example of this was furnished in the last war, when the abbots and the freemasons, the royalists and the anarcho-syndicalists, vied with each other in beating the drum of bloody capitalism.
We have mentioned freemasonry, which in the political life of France plays a by no means negligible part. It is substantially a petit bourgeois imitation of Feudal Catholicism. The French bourgeois republic, displaying now the right and then the left wing, then both of them together, makes equal use of both the authentic brand of Catholicism and of its petit bourgeois imitation – Freemasonry – in which the roles of cardinals and abbots are played by bankers, parliamentary politicians, mercenary journalists and lawyers on the alert for fat fees. Freemasonry, diluting the strong wine of Catholicism and effecting economic reductions of the celestial hierarchy, leaving only the “supreme” being (l’être suprême), at the same time adopted the current terminology of democracy – Brotherhood, Humanity, Justice, Virtue, etc. Freemasonry is an unofficial but extremely important component part of the bourgeois regime. Outwardly non-political, like the Church, it is substantially as counter-revolutionary as the Church. To the acute forms of class antagonisms it opposes mystical, sentimental and moral symbols, which it clothes in a masquerade of ritualism after the manner of the Church. In its origin an inefficient petit bourgeois antidote to the class struggle which rends mankind, Freemasonry has become in its turn, like all movements and organizations of that character, a valuable weapon of the class struggle in the hands of the ruling class against the dispossessed.
It has always been the refined art of the English bourgeoisie to shower its attentions on the prominent leaders of the working class, to flatter them on their respectability, to corrupt them morally and politically by exalting their souls. The various English sects and churches, where the representatives of different parties meet on “neutral” ground, are the most important means of this taming and corrupting process. It was not without reason that Lloyd George termed the Church the neutral electric station of politics. Freemasonic lodges, at least a part of them, play a similar role in France. To a French socialist, and to the French syndicalist, admission to the lodge was tantamount to admission to the higher political spheres. Here, in these lodges, were made the useful acquaintances of the budding politician, and all this under the floral decorations of morality, ritualism and mystics. Freemasonry does not change its time-honoured tactics with regard to the Communist Party; it does not expel the communists from its midst, on the contrary it opens its doors widely to them. Freemasonry would not be true to itself if it acted otherwise. It is its political function – to manage the representatives of the working class so as to assist in weakening their wills, and if possible, also their brains. The “brother” lawyers and prefects are quite inquisitive and eager to listen to reports on communism. But can the younger brother of the left present to his older brother of the right the crude figure of the bolshevik with a knife between his teeth? Oh no! Communism as catered to the masonic lodges, must be of a very high and refined order, a pacifist and humanitarian doctrine interwoven by the finest philosophic threads with the brotherhood idea of the freemasons. Freemasonry on the whole represents one of the forms of political servility of the petit bourgeoisie before the big bourgeoisie. The masonic affiliation of “communists” is nothing but the spiritual servility of individual pseudo-revolutionaries before the petty bourgeoisie, and consequently before the big bourgeoisie.
It is needless to point out that the so-called “League of the Rights of Man” is one of the portals of the great edifice of capitalist democracy. Whereas in the lodges the corrupting traffic in souls is conducted under the sign of Brotherhood, the same job is done in the League on the grounds of Justice. The entire policy of the “League”, as was eloquently brought to light by the war, moves within the limits prescribed by the patriotic and nationalistic interests of French capitalism. Within these limits the League is permitted, on account of some isolated act of injustice or violation of rights, to raise a hue and cry which serves the purpose of attracting the place-seekers and raising the awe of simpletons.
Both the League and the masonic lodges have always been the arena for the political coalition of socialists with bourgeois radicals. In this coalition the socialists, of course, do not act as representatives of the working class, but as individuals. But the importance of the individual socialists in the lodges is determined not by the weight of their individual virtues, but by the political weight they possess among the working class. In other words, in the lodges and similar institutions the socialist gentry turn to their own account the part played by them in the labor movement. At this job it is easy to cover up traces, because all the manipulations are glossed over by an idealistic ritual.
Cringing, picking up crumbs that fall from the masters’ table, servility, place-hunting, parasitism, in the direct material sense and in the more covert “spiritual” sense – this is what freemasonry means to those who climb to it from the bottom up. If the friends of Leon Blum and the friends of Jouhaux walk in the lodges check by jowl with their brothers of the left, they are only carrying out strictly the political part assigned to them; at the secret masonic meetings they do the things that cannot conveniently be done at parliamentary meetings or in the press. We can only blush with burning shame on learning that in the ranks of a Communist (!!!) Party there are people who supplement the idea of the proletarian dictatorship by fraternizing with dissenters and radicals, with lawyers and bankers, at masonic lodge meetings. If nothing else were known to us of the doings of our French party than this fact, we could exclaim in the words of Hamlet: “There is something rotten in the State of Denmark”. Can the International allow the continuance and the development of this truly shameful phenomenon? It would be tantamount to allowing the French Communist party in the system of democratic conservatism to occupy the same place of left wing support that was formerly held by the Socialist Party. This will never be allowed – our faith in the revolutionary instinct and in the revolutionary consciousness of the French proletarian vanguard is too firm. With a keen-edged sword the French workers will cut and sever all the political philosophical, moral and mystical knots which still tie the leaders of his party to the open covert organs of bourgeois democracy – its lodges, its leagues and its press. If this sword should sever from our party a few hundred or even a few thousand political cadavers, they have only themselves to blame. It will be a good riddance for the party of the proletariat, for its strength and importance are determined by something more than the number of its membership.
An organization of 50,000 members, but properly conducted and fully aware of its aims, admitting of no deviations from the revolutionary path, can and will win the confidence of the majority of the working class and will assume the leading position in the revolution. On the other hand, an organization of 100,000 members, but containing in its midst Centrists, pacifists, Freemasons, bourgeois, journalists, etc., will be doomed to perpetual stagnation – without a program, without ideas, without will – and will never win the confidence of the working class.
Freemasonry is an ulcer on the body of French communism. This ulcer ought to be cauterized.
International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecorr, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. The ECCI also published the glossy magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 monthly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecor, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecor are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
PDF of issue:https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1922/v02n115-dec-19-1922-Inprecor.pdf