On the II. International
Dead Chauvinism and Living Socialism
HOW THE INTERNATIONAL CAN BE RESTORED
Sotsial-Demokrat No. 35, December 12, 1914
Lenin, collected works, Volume 21, pages 94 - 101
For decades, German Social-Democracy was a model to the Social-Democrats of Russia, even somewhat more than to the Social-Democrats of the whole world. It is therefore clear that there can be no intelligent, i.e., critical, attitude towards the now prevalent social-patriotism or “socialist” chauvinism, without a most precise definition of one’s attitude towards German Social-Democracy, What was it in the past? What is it today? What will it be in the future?
A reply to the first of these questions may be found in Der Weg zur Macht, a pamphlet written by K. Kautsky in 1909 and translated into many European languages. Containing a most complete exposition of the tasks of our times, it was most advantageous to the German Social-Democrats (in the sense of the promise they held out), and moreover came from the pen of the most eminent writer of the Second International. We shall recall the pamphlet in some detail; this will be the more useful now since those forgotten ideals are so often barefacedly cast aside.Social-Democracy is a “revolutionary party” (as stated in the opening sentence of the pamphlet), not only in the sense that a steam engine is revolutionary, but “also in another sense”. It wants conquest of political power by the proletariat, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Heaping ridicule on “doubters of the revolution”, Kautsky writes: “In any important movement and uprising we must, of course, reckon with the possibility of defeat. Prior to the struggle, only a fool can consider himself quite certain of victory.” However, to refuse to consider the possibility of victory would he “a direct betrayal of our cause”. A revolution in connection with a war, he says, is possible both during and after a war. It is impossible to determine at which particular moment the sharpening of class antagonisms will lead to revolution, but, the author continues, “I can quite definitely assert that a revolution that war brings in its wake, will break out either during or immediately after the war”; nothing is more vulgar, we read further, than the theory of “the peaceful growing into socialism”. “Nothing is more erroneous,” he continues, “than the opinion that a cognition of economic necessity means a weakening of the will ... . The will, as a desire for struggle,” he says, “is determined, first, by the price of the struggle, secondly, by a sense of power, and thirdly, by actual power.” When an attempt was made, incidentally by Vorwärts, to interpret Engels’s famous preface to "The Class Struggles in France" in the meaning of opportunism, Engels became indignant, and called shameful any assumption that he was a “peaceful worshipper of legality at any price”. “We have every reason to believe,” Kautsky goes on to say, “that we are entering upon a period of struggle for state power.” That struggle may last for decades; that is something we do not know, but “it will in all probability bring about, in the near future, a considerable strengthening of the proletariat, if not its dictatorship, in Western Europe”. The revolutionary elements are growing, Kautsky declares: out of ten million voters in Germany in 1895, there were six million proletarians and three and a half million people interested in private property; in 1907 the latter grew by 0.03 million, and the former by 1.6 million! “The rate of the advance becomes very rapid as soon as a time of revolutionary ferment comes.” Class antagonisms are not blunted but, on the contrary, grow acute; prices rise, and imperialist rivalry and militarism are rampant. “A new era of revolution” is drawing near. The monstrous growth of taxes would “long ago have led to war as the only alternative to revolution ... had not that very alternative of revolution stood closer after a war than after a period of armed peace...”. “A world war Is ominously imminent,” Kautsky continues, “and war means also revolution.” In 1891 Engels had reason to fear a premature revolution in Germany; since then, however, “the situation has greatly changed”. The proletariat “can no longer speak of a premature revolution” (Kautsky’s italics). The petty bourgeoisie is downright unreliable and is ever more hostile to the proletariat, but in a time of crisis it is “capable of coming over to our side in masses”. The main thing is that Social-Democracy “should remain unshakable, consistent, and irreconcilable”. We have undoubtedly entered a revolutionary period.
This is how Kautsky wrote in times long, long past, fully five years ago. This is what German Social-Democracy was, or, more correctly, what it promised to be. This was the kind of Social-Democracy that could and had to be respected.
See what the selfsame Kautsky writes today. Here are the most important statements in his article “Social-Democracy in Wartime” (Die Neue Zeit No. 1, October 2, 1914): “Our Party has far more rarely discussed the question of how to behave in wartime than how to prevent war .... Never is government so strong, never are parties so weak, as at the outbreak of war .... Wartime is least of all favourable to peaceful discussion .... Today the practical question is: victory or defeat for one’s own country.” Can there be an understanding among the parties of the belligerent countries regarding anti-war action? “That kind of thing has never been tested in practice. We have always disputed that possibility ....” The difference between the French and German socialists is “not one of principle” (as both defend their fatherlands) .... “Social-Democrats of all countries have an equal right or an equal obligation to take part in the defence of the fatherland: no nation should blame the other for doing so ....” “Has the International turned bankrupt?” “Has the Party rejected direct defence of its party principles in wartime?” (Mehring’s questions in the same issue.) “That is an erroneous conception .... There are no grounds at all for such pessimism .... The differences are not fundamental .... Unity of principles remains .... To disobey wartime laws would simply lead to suppression of our press.” Obedience to these laws “implies rejection of defence of party principles just as little as similar behaviour of our party press under that sword of Damocles—the Anti-Socialist Law.”
We have purposely quoted from the original because it is hard to believe that such things could have been written. It is hard to find in literature (except in that coming from downright renegades) such smug vulgarity, such shameful departure from the truth, such unsavoury subterfuge to cover up the most patent renunciation both of socialism in general and of precise international decisions unanimously adopted (as, for instance, in Stuttgart and particularly in Basic) precisely in view of the possibility of a European war just like the present! It would be disrespectful towards the reader were we to treat Kautsky’s arguments in earnest and try to analyse them: if the European war differs in many respects from a simple “little” anti-Jewish pogrom, the “socialist” arguments in favour of participation in such a war fully resimhle the “democratic” arguments in favour of participation in an anti-Jewish pogrom. One does not analyse arguments in favour of a pogrom; one only points them out so as to put their authors to shame in the sight of all class-conscious workers.
But how could it have come to pass, the reader will ask, that the leading authority in the Second International, a writer who once defended the views quoted at the beginning of this article, has sunk to something that is worse than being a renegade? That will not be understood, we answer, only by those who, perhaps unconsciously, consider that nothing out of the ordinary has happened, and that it is not difficult to “forgive and forget”, etc., i.e., by those who regard the matter from the renegade’s point of view. Those, however, who have earnestly and sincerely professed socialist convictions and have held the views set forth in the beginning of this article will not be surprised to learn that “Vorwdrts is dead” (Martov’s expression in the Paris Gobs) and that Kautsky is “dead”. The political bankruptcy of individuals is not a rarity at turning points in history. Despite the tremendous services he has rendered, Kautsky has never been among those who, at great crises, immediately take a militant Marxist stand (recall his vacillations on the issue of Millerandism).
It is such times that we are passing through. “You shoot first, Messieurs the Bourgeoisie!” Engels wrote in 1891, advocating, most correctly, the use of bourgeois legality by us, revolutionaries, in the period of so-called peaceful constitutional development. Engels’s idea was crystal clear: we class-conscious workers, he said, will be the next to shoot; it is to our advantage to exchange ballots for bullets (to go over to civil war) at the moment the bourgeoisie itself has broken the legal foundation it has laid down. In 1909 Kautsky voiced the undisputed opinion held by all revolutionary Social-Democrats when he said that revolution in Europe cannot now be prematureand that war means revolution.
“Peaceful” decades, however, have not passed without leaving their mark. They have of necessity given rise to opportunism in all countries, and made it prevalent among parliamentarian, trade union, journalistic and other “leaders”. There is no country in Europe where, in one form or another, a long and stubborn struggle has not been conducted against opportunism, the latter being supported in a host of ways by the entire bourgeoisie, which is striving to corrupt and weaken the revolutionary proletariat. Fifteen years ago, at the outset of the Bernstein controversy, the selfsame Kautsky wrote that should opportunism turn from a sentiment into a trend, a split would be imminent. In Russia, the old Iskra, which created the Social-Democratic Party of the working class, declared, in an article which appeared in its second issue early in 1901, under the title of “On the Threshold of the Twentieth Century”, that the revolutionary class of the twentieth century, like the revolutionary class of the eighteenth century—the bourgeoisie, had its own Gironde and its own Mountain.
The European war is a tremendous historical crisis, the beginning of a new epoch. Like any crisis, the war has aggravated deep-seated antagonisms and brought them to the surface, tearing asunder all veils of hypocrisy, rejecting all conventions and deflating all corrupt or rotting authorities. (This, incidentally, is the salutary and progressive effect of all crises, which only the dull-witted adherents of “peaceful evolution” fail to realise.) The Second International, which in its twenty-five or forty-five years of existence (according to whether the reckoning is from 1870 or 1889) was able to perform the highly important and useful work of expanding the influence of socialism and giving the socialist forces preparatory, initial and elementary organisation, has played its historical role and has passed away, overcome, not so much by the von Kiucks as by opportunism. Let the dead bury their dead. Let the empty-headed busy-bodies (if not the intriguing lackeys of the chauvinists and the opportunists) labour at the task of bringing together Vandervelde and Sembat with Kautsky and Haase, as though we had another Ivan Ivanovich, who has called Ivan Nikiforovich a “gander”, and has to he urged by his friends to make it up with his enemy. An International does not mean sitting at the same table and having hypocritical and pettifogging resolutions written by people who think that genuine internationalism consists in German socialists justifying the German bourgeoisie’s call to shoot down French workers, and in French socialists justifying the French bourgeoisie’ call to shoot down German workers in the name of the “defence of the fatherland”! The International consists in the coming together (first ideologically, then in due time organisationally as well) of people who, in these grave days, are capable of defending socialist internationalism in deed, i.e., of mustering their forces and “being the next to shoot” at the governments and the ruling classes of their own respective “fatherlands”. This is no easy task; it calls for much preparation and great sacrifices and will be accompanied by reverses. However, for the very reason that it, is no easy task, it must be accomplished only together with those who wish to perform it and are not afraid of a complete break with the chauvinists and with the defenders of social-chauvinism.
Such people as Pannekoek are doing more than anyone else for the sincere, not hypocritical restoration of a socialist, not a chauvinist, International. In an article entitled “The Collapse of the International”, Pannekoek said: “If the leaders get together in an attempt to patch up their differences, that will be of no significance at all.”
Let us frankly state the facts; in any case the war will compel us to do so, if not tomorrow, then the day after.
Three currents exist in international socialism: (1) the chauvinists, who are consistently pursuing a policy of opportunism; (2) the consistent opponents of opportunism, who in all countries have already begun to make themselves heard (the opportunists have routed most of them, but “defeated armies learn fast”), and are capable of conducting revolutionary work directed towards civil war; (3) confused and vacillating people, who at present are following in the wake of the opportunists and are causing the proletariat most harm by their hypocritical attempts to justify opportunism, something that they do almost scientifically and using the Marxist (sic!) method. Some of those who are engulfed in the latter current can be saved and restored to socialism, but only through a policy of a most decisive break and split with the former current, with all those who are capable of justifying the war credits vote, “the defence of the fatherland”, “submission to wartime laws”, a willingness to be satisfied with legal means only, and the rejection of civil war. Only those who pursue a policy like this are really building up a socialist International. For our part, we, who have established links with the Russian Collegium of the Central Committee and with the leading elements of the working-class movement in St. Petersburg, have exchanged opinions with them and become convinced that we are agreed on the main points, are in a position, as editors of the Central Organ, to declare in the name of our Party that only work conducted in this direction is Party work and Social-Democratic work.
The idea of a split in the German Social-Democratic movement may seem alarming to many in its “unusualness”. The objective situation, however, goes to show that either the unusual will come to pass (after all, Adler and Kautsky did declare, at the last session of the International Socialist Bureau in July 1914, that they did not believe in miracles, and therefore did not believe in a European war!) or we shall witness the painful decomposition of what was once German Social-Democracy. In conclusion, we would like to remind those who are too prone to “trust” the (former) German Social-Democrats that people who have been our opponents on a number of issues have arrived at the idea of such a split. Thus Martov has written in Gobs: “Vorwarts is dead .... A Social-Democracy which publicly renounces the class struggle would do better to recognise the facts as they are, temporarily disband its organisation, and close down its organs.” Thus Plekhanov is quoted by Gobs as having saidin a report: “I am very much against splits, but if principles are sacrificed for the integrity of the organisation, then better a split than false unity.” Plekhanov was referring to the German radicals: he sees a mote in the eye of the Germans, but not the beam in his own eye. This is an individual feature in him; over the past ten years we have all grown quite used to Plekhanov’s radicalism in theory and opportunism in practice. However, if even persons with such “oddities” begin to talk of a split among the Germans, it is a sign of the times.