On the Youth International
The Youth International
Source: Lenin – Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974 (Second printing), Volume 23, pages 163 – 166
A German-language publication bearing the above title has been appearing in Switzerland since September 1, 1915. It carries the subtitle: “Militant and Propaganda Organ of the International League of Socialist Youth Organisations”. Altogether six issues have appeared so far. The magazine merits our attention and should be strongly recommended to all Party members in a position to contact foreign Social-Democratic parties and youth organisations.
Most of the official European Social-Democratic parties are advocating the foulest and vilest social-chauvinism and opportunism. This applies to the German and French parties, the Fabian Society and the Labour Party in England, the Swedish, Dutch (Troelstra’s party), Danish, Austrian par ties, etc. In the Swiss party, notwithstanding the withdrawal (to the great benefit of the labour movement) of the extreme opportunists, now organised in the non-party “Grütli Verein”, there still remain within the Social-Democratic Party numerous opportunist, social-chauvinist and Kautskyite leaders who exercise tremendous influence on its affairs.
With this state of affairs in Europe, there falls on the League of Socialist Youth Organisations the tremendous, grateful but difficult task of fighting for revolutionary internationalism, for true socialism and against the prevailing opportunism which has deserted to the side of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The Youth International has published a number of good articles in defence of revolutionary inter nationalism, and the magazine as a whole is permeated with a fine spirit of intense hatred for the betrayers of socialism, the “defenders of the fatherland” in the present war, and with an earnest desire to wipe out the corroding influence of chauvinism and opportunism in the international labour movement.
Of course, the youth organ still lacks theoretical clarity and consistency. Perhaps it may never acquire them, precisely because it is the organ of seething, turbulent, inquiring youth. However, our attitude towards the lack of theoretical clarity on the part of such people must be entirely different from what our attitude is and should be towards the theoretical muddle in the heads, and the lack of revolutionary consistency in the hearts, of our “O.C.-ists”, “Socialist Revolutionaries”, Tolstoyans, anarchists, the European Kautskyites (“Centre”), etc. Adults who lay claim to lead and teach the proletariat, hut actually mislead it, are one thing: against such people a ruthless struggle must be waged. Organisations of youth, however, which openly declare that they are still learning, that their main task is to train party workers for the socialist parties, are quite another thing. Such people must he given every assistance. We must be patient with their faults and strive to correct them gradually, mainly by persuasion, and not by fighting them. The middle-aged and the aged often do not know how to approach the youth, for the youth must of necessity advance to socialism in a different way, by other paths, in other forms, in other circumstances than their fathers. Incidentally, that is why we must decidedly favour organisational independence of the Youth League, not only because the opportunists fear such independence, but because of the very nature of the case. For unless they have complete independence, the youth will be unable either to train good socialists from their midst or prepare themselves to lead socialism forward.
We stand for the complete independence of the Youth Leagues, but also for complete freedom of comradely criticism of their errors! We must not flatter the youth.
Of the errors to be noted in this excellent magazine, reference must first of all be made to the following three:
1) The incorrect position on the question of disarmament (or “disarming”), which we criticised in a preceding article [ see pp 94 – 104 in this volume. - ed ]. There is reason to believe that this error arises entirely out of the laudable desire to emphasise the need to strive for the “complete destruction of militarism” (which is perfectly correct); but the role of civil wars in the socialist revolution is forgotten.
2) On the question of the differences between socialists and anarchists in their attitude towards the state, Comrade Nota-Bene [ Bukharin] in his article (issue No. 6) falls into a very serious error (as he also does on several other questions, for instance, our reasons for combating the “defence of the fatherland” slogan). The author wishes to present “a clear picture of the state in general” (together with that of the imperialist predatory state). He quotes several statements by Marx and Engels, and arrives at the following two conclusions, among others:
a) “...It is absolutely wrong to seek the difference between socialists and anarchists in the fact that the former are in favour of the state while the latter are against it. The real difference is that revolutionary Social-Democracy desires to organise social production on new lines, as centralised, i. e., technically the most progressive, method of production, whereas decentralised, anarchist production would mean retrogression to obsolete techniques, to the old form of enterprise.” This is wrong. The author raises the question of the difference in the socialists’ and anarchists’ attitude towards the state. However, he answers not this question, but another, namely, the difference in their attitude towards the economic foundation of future society. That, of course, is an important and necessary question. But that is no reason to ignore the main point of difference between socialists and anarchists in their attitude towards the state. Socialists are in favour of utilising the present state and its institutions in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class, maintaining also that the state should be used for a specific form of transition from capitalism to socialism. This transitional form is the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is also a state.
The anarchists want to “abolish” the state, “blow it up” (sprengen) as Comrade Nota-Bene expresses it in one place, erroneously ascribing this view to the socialists. The socialists—unfortunately the author quotes Engels’s relevant words rather incompletely—hold that the state will “wither away”, will gradually “fall asleep” alter the bourgeoisie has been expropriated.
b) “Social-Democracy, which is, or at least should be, the educator of the masses, must now more than ever emphasise its hostility to the state in principle.... The present war has shown how deeply the state idea has penetrated the souls of workers,” writes Comrade Nota-Bene. In order to “emphasise” our “hostility” to the state “in principle” we must indeed understand it “clearly”, and it is this clarity that our author lacks. His remark about the “state idea” is entirely muddled. It is un-Marxist and un-socialist. The point is not that the “state idea” has clashed with the repudiation of the state, but that opportunist policy (i.e., the opportunist, reformist, bourgeois attitude towards the state) has clashed with revolutionary Social-Democratic policy (i.e., the revolutionary Social-Democratic attitude towards the bourgeois state and towards utilising it against the bourgeoisie to overthrow the bourgeoisie). These are entirely different things. We hope to return to this very important subject in a separate article.
3) The “declaration of principles of the International League of Socialist Youth Organisations”, published in issue No. 6 as the “Secretariat’s draft”, contains not a few inaccuracies, and does not contain the main thing: a clear comparison of the three fundamental trends (social-chauvinism, “Centre” and Left) now contending against each other in the socialist movement of all countries.
We repeat, these errors must be refuted and explained. At the same time we must make every effort to find points of contact and closer relations with youth organisations and help them in every way, but we must find the proper manner of approach to them.