The War and Russian Social-Democracy
Written prior to September 28 (October 11), 1914
Collected Works, Volume 21, pages 25-34.
The European war, which the governments and the bourgeois parties of all countries have been preparing for decades, has broken out. The growth of armaments, the extreme intensification of the struggle for markets in the latest—the imperialist—stage of capitalist development in the advanced countries, and the dynastic interests of the more backward East-European monarchies were inevitably bound to bring about this war, and have done so. Seizure of territory and subjugation of other nations, the ruining of competing nations and the plunder of their wealth, distracting the attention of the working masses from the internal political crises in Russia, Germany, Britain and other countries, disuniting and nationalist stultification of the workers, and the extermination of their vanguard so as to weaken the revolutionary movement of the proletariat—these comprise the sole actual content, importance and significance of the present war.
It is primarily on Social-Democracy that the duty rests of revealing the true meaning of the war, and of ruthlessly exposing the falsehood, sophistry and “patriotic” phrasemongering spread by the ruling classes, the landowners and the bourgeoisie, in defence of the war.
One group of belligerent nations is headed by the German bourgeoisie. It is hoodwinking the working class and the toiling masses by asserting that this is a war in defence of the fatherland, freedom and civilisation, for the liberation of the peoples oppressed by tsarism, and for the destruction of reactionary tsarism. In actual fact, however, this bourgeoisie, which servilely grovels to the Prussian Junkers, headed by Wilhelm II, has always been a most faithful ally of tsarism, and an enemy of the revolutionary movement of Russia’s workers and peasants. In fact, whatever the outcome of the war, this bourgeoisie will together with the Junkers, exert every effort to support the tsarist monarchy against a revolution in Russia.
In fact, the German bourgeoisie has launched a robber campaign against Serbia, with the object of subjugating her and throttling the national revolution of the Southern Slavs, at the same time sending the bulk of its military forces against the freer countries, Belgium and France, so as to plunder richer competitors. In fact, the German bourgeoisie, which has been spreading the fable that it is waging a war of defence, chose the moment it thought most favourable for war, making use of its latest improvements in military matériel and forestalling the rearmament already planned and decided upon by Russia and France.
The other group of belligerent nations is headed by the British and the French bourgeoisie, who are hoodwinking the working class and the toiling masses by asserting that they are waging a war for the defence of their countries, for freedom and civilisation and against German militarism and despotism. In actual fact, this bourgeoisie has long been spending thousands of millions to hire the troops of Russian tsarism, the most reactionary and barbarous monarchy in Europe, and prepare them for an attack on Germany.
In fact, the struggle of the British and the French bourgeoisie is aimed at the seizure of the German colonies, and the ruining of a rival nation, whose economic development has been more rapid. In pursuit of this noble aim, the “advanced” “democratic” nations are helping the savage tsarist regime to still more throttle Poland, the Ukraine, etc., and more thoroughly crush the revolution in Russia.
Neither group of belligerents is inferior to the other in spoiliation, atrocities and the boundless brutality of war; however, to hoodwink the proletariat and distract its attention from the only genuine war of liberation, namely, a civil war against the bourgeoisie both of its “own” and of “foreign” countries—to achieve so lofty an aim—the bourgeoisie of each country is trying, with the help of false phrases about patriotism, to extol the significance of its “own” national war, asserting that it is out to defeat the enemy, not for plunder and the seizure of territory, but for the “liberation” of all other peoples except its own.
But the harder the governments and the bourgeoisie of all countries try to disunite the workers and pit them against one another, and the more savagely they enforce, for this lofty aim, martial law and the military censorship (measures which even now, in wartime, are applied against the “internal” foe more harshly than against the external), the more pressingly is it the duty of the class-conscious proletariat to defend its class solidarity, its internationalism, and its socialist convictions against the unbridled chauvinism of the “patriotic” bourgeois cliques in all countries. If class-conscious workers were to give up this aim, this would mean renunciation of their aspirations for freedom and democracy, to say nothing of their socialist aspirations.
It is with a feeling of the most bitter disappointment that we have to record that the socialist parties of the leading European countries have failed to discharge this duty, the behaviour of these parties’ leaders, particularly in Germany, bordering on downright betrayal of the cause of socialism. At this time of supreme and historic importance, most of the leaders of the present Socialist International, the Second (1889-1914), are trying to substitute nationalism for socialism. As a result of their behaviour, the workers’ parties of these countries did not oppose the governments’ criminal conduct, but called upon the working class to identify its position with that of the imperialist governments. The leaders of the International committed an act of treachery against socialism by voting for war credits, by reiterating the chauvinist (“patriotic”) slogans of the bourgeoisie of their “own” countries, by justifying and defending the war, by joining the bourgeois governments of the belligerent countries, and so on and so forth. The most influential socialist leaders and the most influential organs of the socialist press of present-day Europe hold views that are chauvinist, bourgeois and liberal, and in no way socialist. The responsibility for thus disgracing socialism falls primarily on the German Social-Democrats, who were the strongest and most influential party in the Second International. But neither can one justify the French socialists, who have accepted ministerial posts in the government of that very bourgeoisie which betrayed its country and allied itself with Bismarck so as to crush the Commune.
The German and the Austrian Social-Democrats are at tempting to justify their support for the war by arguing that they are thereby fighting against Russian tsarism. We Russian Social-Democrats declare that we consider such justification sheer sophistry. In our country the revolutionary movement against tsarism has again assumed tremendous proportions during the past few years. This movement has always been headed by the working class of Russia. The political strikes of the last few years, which have involved millions of workers, have had as their slogan the overthrow of tsarism and the establishment of a democratic republic. During his visit to Nicholas II on the very eve of the war, Poincaré, President of the French Republic, could see for himself, in the streets of St. Petersburg, barricades put up by Russian workers. The Russian proletariat has not flinched from any sacrifice to rid humanity of the disgrace of the tsarist monarchy. We must, however, say that if there is anything that, under certain conditions, can delay the downfall of tsarism, anything that can help tsarism in its struggle against the whole of Russia’s democracy, then that is the present war, which has placed the purses of the British, the French and the Russian bourgeois at the disposal of tsarism, to further the latter’s reactionary aims. If there is anything that can hinder the revolutionary struggle of the Russia’s working class against tsarism, then that is the behaviour of the German and the Austrian Social-Democratic leaders, which the chauvinist press of Russia is continually holding up to us as an example.
Even assuming that German Social-Democracy was so weak that it was compelled to refrain from all revolutionary action, it should not have joined the chauvinist camp, or taken steps which gave the Italian socialists reason to say that the German Social-Democratic leaders were dishonouring the banner of the proletarian International.
Our Party, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, has made, and will continue to make great sacrifices in connection with the war. The whole of our working-class legal press has been suppressed. Most working-class associations have been disbanded, and a large number of our comrades have been arrested and exiled. Yet our parliamentary representatives—the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group in the Duma—considered it their imperative socialist duty not to vote for the war credits, and even to walk out of the Duma, so as to express their protest the more energetically; they considered it their duty to brand the European governments’ policy as imperialist. Though the tsar’s government has increased its tyranny tenfold, the Social-Democratic workers of Russia are already publishing their first illegal manifestos against the war, thus doing their duty to democracy and to the International.
While the collapse of the Second International has given rise to a sense of burning shame in revolutionary Social-Democrats—as represented by the minority of German Social-Democrats and the finest Social-Democrats in the neutral countries; while socialists in both Britain and France have been speaking up against the chauvinism of most Social-Democratic parties; while the opportunists, as represented, for instance, by the German Sozialistische Monatshefte, which have long held a national-liberal stand, are with good reason celebrating their victory over European socialism—the worst possible service is being rendered to the proletariat by those who vacillate between opportunism and revolutionary Social-Democracy (like the “Centre” in the German Social-Democratic Party), by those who are trying to hush up the collapse of the Second International or to disguise it with diplomatic phrases.
On the contrary, this collapse must be frankly recognised and its causes understood, so as to make it possible to build up a new and more lasting socialist unity of the workers of all countries.
The opportunists have wrecked the decisions of the Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Basle congresses, which made it binding on socialists of all countries to combat chauvinism in all and any conditions, made it binding on socialists to reply to any war begun by the bourgeoisie and governments, with intensified propaganda of civil war and social revolution. The collapse of the Second International is the collapse of opportunism, which developed from the features of a now bygone (and so-called “peaceful”) period of history, and in recent years has some practically to dominate the International. The opportunist have long been preparing the ground for this collapse by denying the socialist revolution and substituting bourgeois reformism in its stead; by rejecting the class struggle with its inevitable conversion at certain moments into civil war, and by preaching class collaboration; by preaching bourgeois chauvinism under the guise of patriotism and the defence of the fatherland, and ignoring or rejecting the fundamental truth of socialism, long ago set forth in the Communist Manifesto, that the workingmen have no country; by confining themselves, in the struggle against militarism, to a sentimental, philistine point of view, instead of recognising the need for a revolutionary war by the proletarians of all countries, against the bourgeoisie of all countries; by making a fetish of the necessary utilisation of bourgeois parliamentarianism and bourgeois legality, and forgetting that illegal forms of organisation and propaganda are imperative at times of crises. The natural “appendage” to opportunism—one that is just as bourgeois and hostile to the proletarian, i.e., the Marxist, point of view—namely, the anarcho-syndicalist trend, has been marked by a no less shamefully smug reiteration of the slogans of chauvinism, during the present crisis.
The aims of socialism at the present time cannot be fulfilled, and real international unity of the workers cannot be achieved, without a decisive break with opportunism, and without explaining its inevitable fiasco to the masses.
It must be the primary task of Social-Democrats in every country to combat that country’s chauvinism. In Russia this chauvinism has overcome the bourgeois liberals (the “Constitutional-Democrats”), and part of the Narodniks—down to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the “Right” Social-Democrats. (In particular, the chauvinist utterances of E. Smirnov, P. Maslov and G. Plekhanov, for example, should be branded; they have been taken up and widely used by the bourgeois “patriotic” press.)
In the present situation, it is impossible to determine, from the standpoint of the international proletariat, the defeat of which of the two groups of belligerent nations would be the lesser evil for socialism. But to us Russian Social-Democrats there cannot be the slightest doubt that, from the standpoint of the working class and of the toiling masses of all the nations of Russia, the defeat of the tsarist monarchy, the most reactionary and barbarous of governments, which is oppressing the largest number of nations and the greatest mass of the population of Europe and Asia, would be the lesser evil.
The formation of a republican United States of Europe should be the immediate political slogan of Europe’s Social-Democrats. In contrast with the bourgeoisie, which is ready to “promise” anything in order to draw the proletariat into the mainstream of chauvinism, the Social-Democrats will explain that this slogan is absolutely false and meaningless without the revolutionary overthrow of the German, the Austrian and the Russian monarchies.
Since Russia is most backward and has not yet completed its bourgeois revolution, it still remains the task of Social-Democrats in that country to achieve the three fundamental conditions for consistent democratic reform, viz., a democratic republic (with complete equality and self-determination for all nations), confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight-hour working day. But in all the advanced countries the war has placed on the order of the day the slogan of socialist revolution, a slogan that is the more urgent, the more heavily the burden of war presses upon the shoulders of the proletariat, and the more active its future role must become in the re-creation of Europe, after the horrors of the present “patriotic” barbarism in conditions of the tremendous technological progress of large-scale capitalism. The bourgeoisie’s use of wartime laws to gag the proletariat makes it imperative for the latter to create illegal forms of agitation and organisation. Let the opportunists “preserve” the legal organisations at the price of treachery to their convictions—revolutionary Social-Democrats will utilise the organisational experience and links of the working class so as to create illegal forms of struggle for socialism, forms appropriate to a period of crisis, and to unite the workers, not with the chauvinist bourgeoisie of their respective countries, but with the workers of all countries. The proletarian International has not gone under and will not go under. Notwithstanding all obstacles, the masses of the workers will create a new International. Opportunism’s present triumph will be short-lived. The greater the sacrifices imposed by the war the clearer will it become to the mass of the workers that the opportunists have betrayed the workers’ cause and that the weapons must be turned against the government and the bourgeoisie of each country.
The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan, one that follows from the experience of the Commune, and outlined in the Basle resolution (1912); it bas been dictated by all the conditions of an imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries. However difficult that transformation may seem at any given moment, socialists will never relinquish systematic, persistent and undeviating preparatory work in this direction now that war has become a fact.
It is only along this path that the proletariat will be able to shake off its dependence on the chauvinist bourgeoisie, and, in one form or another and more or less rapidly, take decisivo steps towards genuine freedom for the nations and towards socialism.
Long live the international fraternity of the workers against the chauvinism and patriotism of the bourgeoisie of all countries!
Long live a proletarian International, freed from opportunism!
Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party