Legality

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It does not always entail a conscious betrayal or even a conscious compromise. It is rather the natural and instinctive attitude towards the state, which appears to the man of action as the only fixed point in a chaotic world. It is a view of the world that has to be overcome if the Communist Party wishes to create a healthy foundation for both its legal and illegal tactics. For all revolutionary movements begin with the romanticism of illegality, but hardly any succeed in seeing their way beyond the stage of opportunist legality. That this romanticism, like every kind of Putschism, should underestimate the actual strength possessed by capitalism even at a moment of crisis is, of course, often very dangerous.

But even this is no more than a symptom of the disease from which this whole tendency suffers. The disease itself is the inability to see the state as nothing more than a power factor. And in the last resort this indicates a failure to see the connections we have just mapped out. For to rebel against the law qua law, to prefer certain actions because they are illegal, implies for anyone who so acts that the law has retained its binding validity.

Where the total, communist, fearlessness with regard to the state and the law is present, the law and its calculable consequences are of no greater if also of no smaller importance than any other external fact of life with which it is necessary to reckon when deciding upon any definite course of action. The risk of breaking the law should not be regarded any differently than the risk of missing a train connection when on an important journey. At first sight this distinction may perhaps seem pedantic. But to realise that it is no empty and abstract invention but, on the contrary, a description of the true situation one need only recall how easy it was for typical illegal parties like the Socialist Revolutionaries in Russia to find their way back in to the bourgeois camp.

One need only recall the first truly revolutionary illegal acts which had ceased to be the romantically heroic infringements of isolated laws and had become the rejection and destruction of the whole bourgeois legal system. In the past he was not only the celebrated organizer of almost all the great assassinations under Czarism but also one of the first theoreticians of romantic illegality.

The question of legality or illegality reduces itself then for the Communist Party to a mere question of tactics, even to a question to be resolved on the spur of the moment, one for which it is scarcely possible to lay down general rules as decisions have to be taken on the basis of immediate expediencies. In this wholly unprincipled solution lies the only possible practical and principled rejection of the bourgeois legal system.

Such tactics are essential for Communists and not just on grounds of expediency.

Legality Principle in Criminal Law, Echo Effects

They are needed not just because it is only in this way that their tactics will acquire a genuine flexibility and adaptability to the exigencies of the particular moment; nor because the alternate or even the simultaneous use of legal and illegal methods is necessary if the bourgeoisie is to be fought effectively. Such tactics are necessary in order to complete the revolutionary self-education of the proletariat.

For the proletariat can only be liberated from its dependence upon the life-forms created by capitalism when it has learnt to act without these life-forms inwardly influencing its actions. As motive forces they must sink to the status of matters of complete indifference. Needless to say, this will not reduce by one iota the hatred of the proletariat for these forms, nor the burning wish to destroy them. On the contrary, only by virtue of this inner conviction will the proletariat be able to regard the capitalist social order as an abomination, dead but still a lethal obstacle to the healthy evolution of humanity; and this is an indispensable insight if the proletariat is to be able to take a conscious and enduring revolutionary stand.

The need to establish just what is appropriate to revolutionary action coincides fortunately-though by no means adventitiously-with the exigencies of this educational task. To take but one example, the Second Congress of the Third International laid down in its Supplementary Theses on the question of parliamentarism that the Parliamentary Party should be completely dependent on the Central Committee of the C. Now this decision is not only absolutely indispensable for ensuring unified action.

It also has the effect of visibly lowering the prestige of parliament in the eyes of broad sections of the proletariat and it is upon this prestige that the freedom of action of that bastion of opportunism, the Parliamentary Party, is based. How necessary this is, is shown by the fact that, e. There is yet another reason for insisting upon the simultaneous and alternating use of both legal and illegal methods. Only this will bring into being the precondition for an untrammelled revolutionary attitude towards law and the state, namely the exposure of the system of law as the brutal power instrument of capitalist oppression.

Where one or other of the two methods is used exclusively, or predominantly, even though within certain restricted areas, the bourgeoisie will be able to maintain the fiction in the minds of the masses that its system of law is the only system. In certain cases, especially where nationalist prejudices obscure the vision of the proletariat, a capitalist government may be able to turn this to its own advantage.

But at times, when the proletariat is gathering its forces for the decisive battle, such violations will prove all the more risky.


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It is here, in this caution of the oppressors which springs from considerations such as these, that we find the origin of those fatal illusions about democracy and about the peaceful transition to socialism. Such illusions are encouraged above all by the fact that the opportunists persist in acting legally at any price and thereby render possible the policy of prudence adopted by the ruling class.

This work of educating the proletariat will only be directed into fruitful channels when sober, objective tactics are adopted that are prepared for every legal and every illegal method and that decide which is to be used solely on grounds of its utility. Many of the phenomena that make their appearance in the first stage of every dictatorship of the proletariat can be ascribed to the fact that the proletariat is forced to take power at a time and in a state of mind in which it inwardly still acknowledges the bourgeois social order as the only authentic and legal one.

The basis of a soviet government is the same as that of any lawful system: it must be acknowledged by such large sections of the population that it has to resort only in exceptional cases to acts of violence. Now it is self-evident from the very outset that under no circumstances will such recognition be forthcoming from the bourgeoisie at the beginning.

A class accustomed by a tradition going back for many generations to the enjoyment of privileges and the exercise of power will never resign itself merely because of a single defeat. It will not simply endure the emergence of a new order without more ado. It must first be broken ideologically before it will voluntarily enter the service of the new society and before it will begin to regard the statutes of that society as legal and as existing of right instead of as the brutal facts of a temporary shift in the balance of power which can be reversed tomorrow.

Whether or not the resistance of the bourgeoisie takes the form of open counter-revolution or of covert acts of sabotage, it is a naive illusion to imagine that it can be disarmed by making some sort of concession to it. On the contrary, the example of the soviet dictatorship in Hungary demonstrates that all such concessions which in this case were without exception also concessions to the Social Democrats, served only to strengthen the power consciousness of the former ruling class and to postpone and even put an end to their inner willingness to accept the rule of the proletariat.

This retreat of the power of the soviets before the bourgeoisie had even more disastrous implications for the ideology of the broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie. It is characteristic of them that they regard the state as something general and universal, as an absolute supreme institution. Apart from an adroit economic policy which is often enough to neutralise the individual groups of the petty bourgeoisie it is evident, then, that much depends on the proletariat itself.

If the proletariat hesitates, if it lacks a sustaining faith in its own mission to rule, it can drive these groups back into the arms of the bourgeoisie and even to open counter-revolution. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat the relationship between legality and illegality undergoes a change in function, for now what was formerly legal becomes illegal and vice versa. However, this change can at most accelerate somewhat the process of emancipation begun under capitalism; it cannot complete it at one stroke.

The bourgeoisie did not lose the sense of its own legality after a single defeat, and similarly the proletariat cannot possibly gain a consciousness of its own legality through the fact of a single victory. This consciousness only matured very slowly under capitalism and even now, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it will only ripen by degrees. In the first period it will even suffer a number of setbacks.

Legal Sourcing

For only now will the proletariat, having once gained control, be able to appreciate the mental achievements which created and sustained capitalism. Not only will it acquire a far greater insight into bourgeois culture than ever before; but also the mental achievements essential to the conduct of the economy and the state will only become apparent to large sections of the proletariat after it has come to power.

Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that to a great extent the proletariat has been deprived of the practice and the tradition of acting independently and responsibly. Hence it may often experience the need to act thus as a burden rather than as a liberation. And finally there is the fact that petty bourgeois and even bourgeois attitudes have come to permeate the habits of life of those sections of the proletariat that will occupy leading positions. This has the effect of making precisely what is new about the new society appear alien and even hostile to them.

All these obstacles would be fairly harmless and might easily be overcome were it not for one fact. This is that the bourgeoisie, for whom the problem of legality and illegality has undergone a comparable change of function, is even here much more mature and much further advanced than the proletariat.

This remains true as long as it is fighting against a proletarian state that has not yet properly established itself. We have made it a requirement for the proletariat struggling for power that it should view the bourgeois state merely as a fact, a power factor; this requirement is now instinctively fulfilled by the bourgeoisie.

Such a development is, however, greatly impeded by the attitude of mind imposed on the proletariat by the opportunists. Having accustomed itself to surrounding the institutions of capitalism with an aura of legality it finds it difficult to view with detachment the surviving remains which may endure for a very long time. Once the proletariat has gained power it still remains enmeshed intellectually in the trammels woven by the course of capitalist development.

This finds expression, on the one hand, in its failure to lay hands on much that ought to be utterly destroyed. On the other hand, it proceeds to the labour of demolition and construction not with the sense of assurance that springs from legitimate rule, but with the mixture of vacillation and haste characteristic of the usurper. A usurper, moreover, who inwardly, in thought, feeling and resolve, anticipates the inevitable restoration of capitalism. I have in mind here not only the more or less overt counter-revolutionary sabotage of the process of socialisation perpetrated throughout the Hungarian soviet dictatorship by the trade-union bureaucrats with the aim of restoring capitalism as painlessly as possible.

I am thinking here also of the widely noted phenomenon of corruption in the soviets which has one of its chief sources here. In the case of people of unstable moral character this confusion was translated into open corruption. But notwithstanding this change the evolution of the class consciousness of the proletariat advances homogeneously and in a straight line. This can be seen most clearly in the foreign policies of proletarian states which, when confronted by the power structures of capitalist states, have to do battle with the bourgeois state just as they did when they seized power in I their own state, though now the methods have partly changed.

The peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk have already testified to the high level and the maturity of the class consciousness attained by the Russian proletariat.

Problems of Legality

Although they were dealing with the German imperialists they recognised their oppressed brothers all over the world as their truly legitimate partners at the negotiating table. His foreign policy was less a negotiation between Germany and Russia than the attempt to promote proletarian revolution and revolutionary consciousness in the nations of Central Europe. Since then the home and foreign policies of the Soviet Government have undergone many changes and it has been necessary to adapt them to the exigencies of the real power situation. But notwithstanding this the fundamental principle, the principle of the legitimacy of its own power which at the same time entails the principle of the need to advance the revolutionary class consciousness of the proletariat of the world, has remained a fixed point throughout the whole period.

The whole problem of the recognition of Soviet Russia by the bourgeois states must not be regarded in isolation as involving no more than the question of the advantages accruing to Russia. It must be seen also as the question of whether the bourgeoisie will recognise the legitimacy of the proletarian revolution. The significance of this recognition changes according to the concrete circumstances in which it takes place.

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Its effect on the vacillating sections of the petty bourgeoisie in Russia as well as on those of the proletariat of the world remains the same in all essentials: it sanctions the legitimacy of the revolution, something of which they stand in great need if they are to accept as legal its official exponents, the Soviet Republic.

All the various methods of Russian politics serve this purpose: the relentless onslaught on the counter-revolution within Russia, the bold confrontation of the powers victorious in the war to whom Russia has never spoken in tones of submission unlike the bourgeoisie of Germany , and the open support granted to revolutionary movements, etc. These policies cause sections of the counter-revolutionary front in Russia to crumble away and to bow before the legitimacy of the Revolution.

They help to fortify the revolutionary self-consciousness of the proletariat, its awareness of its own strength and dignity. The ideological maturity of the Russian proletariat becomes clearly visible when we consider those very factors which have been taken as evidence of its backwardness by the opportunists of the West and their Central European admirers. The Russian proletariat did not emerge victoriously from its revolution because a fortunate constellation of circumstances played into its hands.

This constellation existed equally for the German proletariat in November and for the Hungarian proletariat at the same time and also in March It was victorious because it had been steeled by the long illegal struggle and hence had gained a clear understanding of the nature of the capitalist state.

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Legality | Definition of Legality by Lexico

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