On the II. International
The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International
Sozial-Demokrat No. 33 November 1, 1914
Lenin, collected works, Volume 21, pages 35 - 41
The gravest feature of the present crisis is that the majority of official representatives of European socialism have succumbed to bourgeois nationalism, to chauvinism. It is with good reason that the bourgeois press of all countries writes of them now with derision, now with condescending praise. To anyone who wants to remain a socialist there can be no more important duty than to reveal the causes of this crisis in socialism and analyse the tasks of the International.
There are such that are afraid to admit that the crisis or, to put it more accurately, the collapse of the Second International is the collapse of opportunism.
Reference is made to the unanimity, for instance, among French socialists, and to the fact that the old groups in socialism have supposedly changed their stands in the question of the war. Such references, however, are groundless.
Advocacy of class collaboration; abandonment of the idea of socialist revolution and revolutionary methods of struggle; adaptation to bourgeois nationalism; losing sight of the fact that the borderlines of nationality and country are historically transient; making a fetish of bourgeois legality; renunciation of the class viewpoint and the class struggle, for fear of repelling the “broad masses of the population”(meaning the petty bourgeoisie)—such, doubtlessly, are the ideological foundations of opportunism. And it is from such soil that the present chauvinist and patriotic frame of mind of most Second International leaders has developed. Observers representing the most various points of view have long noted that the opportunists are in fact prevalent in the Second International’s leadership. The war has merely brought out, rapidly and saliently, the true measure of this prevalence. There is nothing surprising in the extraordinary acuteness of the crisis having led to a series of reshufflings within the old groups. On the whole, however, such changes have affected only individuals. The trends within socialism have remained the same.
Complete unanimity does not exist among French socialists. Even Vaillant, who, with Guesde, Plekhanov, Hervé and others, is following a chauvinist line, has had to admit that he has received a number of letters of protest from French socialists, who say that the war is imperialist in character and that the French bourgeoisie is to blame for its outbreak no less than the bourgeoisie of any other country. Nor should it be overlooked that these voices of protest are being smothered, not only by triumphant opportunism, but also by the military censorship. With the British, the Hyndman group (the British Social-Democrats—the British Socialist Party) has completely sunk into chauvinism, as have also most of the semi-liberal leaders of the trade unions. Resistance to chauvinism has come from MacDonald and Keir Hardie of the opportunist Independent Labour Party. This, of course, is an exception to the rule. However, certain revolutionary Social-Democrats who have long been in opposition to Hyndman have now left the British Socialist Party. With the Germans the situation is clear: the opportunists have won; they are jubilant, and feel quite in their element. Headed by Kautsky, the “Centre” has succumbed to opportunism and is defending it with the most hypocritical, vulgar and smug sophistry. Protests have come from the revolutionary Social-Democrats—Mehring, Pannekoek, Karl Liebknecht, and a number of unidentified voices in Germany and German-speaking Switzerland. In Italy, the line-up is clear too: the extreme opportunists, Bissolati and Co. stand for “fatherland”, for Guesde-Vaillant-Plekhanov-Hervé. The revolutionary Social-Democrats (the Socialist Party), with Avanti! at their head, are combating chauvinism and are exposing the bourgeois and selfish nature of the calls for war. They have the support of the vast majority of progressive workers. In Russia, the extreme opportunists of the liquidators’ camp have already raised their voices, in public lectures and the press, in defence of chauvinism. P. Maslov and Y. Smirnov are defending tsarism on the pretext that the fatherland must be defended. (Germany, you see, is threatening to impose trade agreements on “us” at swordpoint, whereas tsarism, we are expected to believe, has not been using the sword, the knout and the gallows to stifle the economic, political and national life of nine-tenths of Russia’s population!) They justify socialists participating in reactionary bourgeois governments, and their approval of war credits today and more armaments tomorrow! Plekhanov has slid into nationalism, and is endeavouring to mask his Russian chauvinism with a Francophile attitude, and so has Alexinsky. To judge from the Paris Golos, Martov is behaving with more decency than the rest of this crowd, and has come out in opposition to both German and French chauvinism, to Vorwärts, Mr. Hyndman and Maslov, but is afraid to come out resolutely against international opportunism as a whole, and against the German Social-Democratic Centrist group, its most “influential” champion. The attempts to present volunteer service in the army as performance of a socialist duty (see the Paris declaration of a group of Russian volunteers consisting of Social-Democrats and Socialist-Revolutionaries, and also a declaration by Polish Social-Democrats, Leder, and others) have had the backing of Plekhanov alone. These attempts have been condemned by the majority of our Paris Party group. The leading article in this issue will inform readers of our Party Central Committee’s stand. To preclude any misunderstanding, the following facts relating to the history of our Party’s views and their formulation must be stated here. After overcoming tremendous difficulties in re-establishing organisational contacts broken by the war, a group of Party members first drew up “theses” and on September 6-8 (New Style) had them circulated among the comrades. Then they were sent to two delegates to the Italo-Swiss Conference in Lugano (September 27), through Swiss Social-Democrats. It was only in mid-October that it became possible to re-establish contacts and formulate the viewpoint of the Party’s Central Committee. The leading article in this issue represents the final wording of the “theses”.
Such, briefly, is the present state of affairs in the European and the Russian Social-Democratic movement. The collapse of the International is a fact. It has been proved conclusively by the polemic, in the press, between the French and German socialists, and acknowledged, not only by the Left Social-Democrats (Mehring and Bremer Bürger Zeitung ), but by moderate Swiss papers (Volksrecht ). Kautsky’s attempts to cover up this collapse are a cowardly subterfuge. The collapse of the International is clearly the collapse of opportunism, which is now captive to the bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie’s stand is clear. It is no less clear that the opportunists are simply echoing bourgeois arguments. In addition to what has been said in the leading article, we need only mention the insulting statements in Die Neue Zeit, suggesting that internationalism consists in the workers of one country shooting down the workers of another country, allegedly in defence of the fatherland!
The question of the fatherland—we shall reply to the opportunists—cannot be posed without due consideration of the concrete historical nature of the present war. This is an imperialist war, i.e., it is being waged at a time of the highest development of capitalism, a time of its approaching end. The working class must first “constitute itself within the nation”, the Communist Manifesto declares, emphasising the limits and conditions of our recognition of nationality and fatherland as essential forms of the bourgeois system, and, consequently, of the bourgeois fatherland. The opportunists distort that truth by extending to the period of the end of capitalism that which was true of the period of its rise. With reference to the former period and to the tasks of the proletariat in its struggle to destroy, not feudalism but capitalism, the Communist Manifesto gives a clear and precise formula: “The workingmen have no country.” One can well understand why the opportunists are so afraid to accept this socialist proposition, afraid even, in most cases, openly to reckon with it. The socialist movement cannot triumph within the old framework of the fatherland. It creates new and superior forms of human society, in which the legitimate needs and progressive aspirations of the working masses of each nationality will, for the first time, be met through international unity, provided existing national partitions are removed. To the present-day bourgeoisie’s attempts to divide and disunite them by means of hypocritical appeals for the “defence of the fatherland” the class-conscious workers will reply with ever new and persevering efforts to unite the workers of various nations in the struggle to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie of all nations.
The bourgeoisie is duping the masses by disguising imperialist rapine with the old ideology of a “national war”. This deceit is being shown up by the proletariat, which has brought forward its slogan of turning the imperialist war into a civil war. This was the slogan of the Stuttgart and Basle resolutions, which had in mind, not war in general, but precisely the present war and spoke, not of “defence of the fatherland”, but of “hastening the downfall of capitalism”, of utilising the war-created crisis for this purpose, and of the example provided by the Paris Commune. The latter was an instance of a war of nations being turned into a civil war.
Of course, such a conversion is no easy matter and cannot be accomplished at the whim of one party or another. That conversion, however, is inherent in the objective conditions of capitalism in general, and of the period of the end of capitalism in particular. It is in that direction, and that direction alone, that socialists must conduct their activities. It is not their business to vote for war credits or to encourage chauvinism in their “own” country (and allied countries), but primarily to strive against the chauvinism of their “own” bourgeoisie, without confining themselves to legal forms of struggle when the crisis has matured and the bourgeoisie has itself taken away the legality it has created. Such is the line of action that leads to civil war, and will bring about civil war at one moment or another of the European conflagration.
War is no chance happening, no “sin” as is thought by Christian priests (who are no whit behind the opportunists in preaching patriotism, humanity and peace), but an inevitable stage of capitalism, just as legitimate a form of the capitalist way of life as peace is. Present-day war is a people’s war. What follows from this truth is not that we must swim with the “popular” current of chauvinism, but that the class contradictions dividing the nations continue to exist in wartime and manifest themselves in conditions of war. Refusal to serve with the forces, anti-war strikes, etc., are sheer nonsense, the miserable and cowardly dream of an unarmed struggle against the armed bourgeoisie, vain yearning for the destruction of capitalism without a desperate civil war or a series of wars. It is the duty of every socialist to conduct propaganda of the class struggle, in the army as well; work directed towards turning a war of the nations into civil war is the only socialist activity in the era of an imperialist armed conflict of the bourgeoisie of all nations. Down with mawkishly sanctimonious and fatuous appeals for “peace at any price"! Let us raise high the banner of civil war! Imperialism sets at hazard the fate of European culture: this war will soon be followed by others, unless there are a series of successful revolutions. The story about this being the “last war” is a hollow and dangerous fabrication, a piece of philistine “mythology”(as Golos aptly puts it). The proletarian banner of civil war will rally together, not only hundreds of thousands of class-conscious workers but millions of semi-proletarians and petty bourgeois, now deceived by chauvinism, but whom the horrors of war will not only intimidate and depress, but also enlighten, teach, arouse, organise, steel and prepare for the war against the bourgeoisie of their “own” country and “foreign” countries. And this will take place, if not today, then tomorrow, if not during the war, then after it, if not in this war then in the next one.
The Second International is dead, overcome by opportunism. Down with opportunism, and long live the Third International, purged not only of “turncoats”(as Golos wishes), but of opportunism as well.
The Second International did its share of useful preparatory work in preliminarily organising the proletarian masses during the long, “peaceful” period of the most brutal capitalist slavery and most rapid capitalist progress in the last third of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. To the Third International falls the task of organising the proletarian forces for a revolutionary onslaught against the capitalist governments, for civil war against the bourgeoisie of all countries for the capture of political power, for the triumph of socialism!