The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart

Written at the end of August and beginning of September 1907

Published in Proletary, No. 17

Lenin, Volume 13, page 75 - 81

The International Socialist Congress In Stuttgart (the Seventh Congress of the Second International) was held from August 18 to 24 (new style), 1907. The R.S.D.L.P. was represented at it by 37 delegates. Among the Bolshevik delegates attending the Congress were Lenin, Lunacharsky, and Litvinov. The Congress considered the following questions: 1) Militarism and international conflicts; 2) Relations between the political parties and the trade unions; 3) The colonial question; 4) Immigration and emigration of workers, and 5) Women’s suffrage. The main work of the Congress was in the committees, where resolutions were drafted for the plenary sessions. Lenin was on the “Militarism and International Conflicts” Committee.

A feature of the International Socialist Congress held in Stuttgart this August was its large and representative composition: the total of 886 delegates came from all the five continents. Besides providing an impressive demonstration of international unity in the proletarian struggle, the Congress played an outstanding part in defining the tactics of the socialist parties. It adopted general resolutions on a number of questions, the decision of which had hitherto been left solely to the discretion of the individual socialist parties. And the fact that more and more problems require uniform, principled decisions in different countries is striking proof that socialism is being welded into a single international force.

The full text of the Stuttgart resolutions will be found elsewhere in this issue. We shall deal briefly with each of them in order to bring out the chief controversial points and the character of the debate at the Congress.

This is not the first time the colonial question has figured at international congresses. Up till now their decisions have always been an unqualified condemnation of bourgeois colonial policy as a policy of plunder and violence. This time, however, the Congress Commission was so composed that opportunist elements, headed by Van Kol of Holland, predominated in it. A sentence was inserted in the draft resolution to the effect that the Congress did not in principle condemn all colonial policy, for under socialism colonial policy could play a civilising role. The minority in the Commission (Ledebour of Germany, the Polish and Russian Social-Democrats, and many others)   vigorously protested against any such idea being entertained. The matter was referred to Congress, where the forces of the two trends were found to be so nearly equal that there was an extremely heated debate.

The opportunists rallied behind Van Kol. Speaking for the majority of the German delegation Bernstein and David urged acceptance of a “socialist colonial policy” and fulminated against the radicals for their barren, negative attitude, their failure to appreciate the importance of reforms, their lack of a practical colonial programme, etc. Incidentally, they were opposed by Kautsky, who felt compelled to ask the Congress to pronounce against the majority of the German delegation. He rightly pointed out that there was no question of rejecting the struggle for reforms; that was explicitly stated in other sections of the resolution, which had evoked no dispute. The point at issue was whether we should make concessions to the modern regime of bourgeois plunder and violence. The Congress was to discuss present-day colonial policy, which was based on the downright enslavement of primitive populations. The bourgeoisie was actually introducing slavery in the colonies and subjecting the native populations to unprecedented outrages and acts of violence, “civilising” them by the spread of liquor and syphilis. And in that situation socialists were expected to utter evasive phrases about the possibility of accepting colonial policy in principle! That would be an outright desertion to the bourgeois point of view. It would be a decisive step towards subordinating the proletariat to bourgeois ideology, to bourgeois imperialism, which is now arrogantly raising its head.

The Congress defeated the Commission’s motion by 128 votes to 108 with ten abstentions (Switzerland). It should be noted that at Stuttgart, for the first time, each nation was allotted a definite number of votes, varying from twenty (for the big nations, Russia included) to two (Luxembourg). The combined vote of the small nations, which either do not pursue a colonial policy, or which suffer from it, outweighed, the vote of nations where even the proletariat has been somewhat infected with the lust of conquest.

This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First, it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism,   which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying of Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians.

The non-propertied, but non-working, class is incapable of overthrowing the exploiters. Only the proletarian class, which maintains the whole of society, can bring about the social revolution. However, as a result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletarian partly finds himself in a position when it is not his labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole of society. The British bourgeoisie, for example, derives more profit from the many millions of the population of India and other colonies than from the British workers. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism. Of course, this may be only a temporary phenomenon, but the evil must nonetheless be clearly realised and its causes understood in order to be able to rally the proletariat of all countries for the struggle against such opportunism. This struggle is bound to be victorious, since the “privileged” nations are a diminishing faction of the capitalist nations.

There were practically no differences at the Congress on the question of women’s suffrage. The only one who tried to make out a case for a socialist campaign in favour of a limited women’s suffrage (qualified as opposed to universal suffrage) was a woman delegate from the extremely opportunist British Fabian Society. No one supported her. Her motives were simple enough: British bourgeois ladies hope to obtain the franchise for themselves, without its extension to women workers in Britain.

The First International Socialist Women’s Conference was held concurrently with the Congress in the same building. Both at this Conference and in the Congress Commission there was an interesting dispute between the German and Austrian Social-Democrats on the draft resolution. In   their campaign for universal suffrage the Austrians tended to play down the demand for equal rights of men and women; on practical grounds they placed the main emphasis on male suffrage. Clara Zetkin and other German Social-Democrats rightly pointed out to the Austrians that they were acting incorrectly, and that by failing to press the demand that the vote be granted to Women as well as men, they were weakening the mass movement. The concluding words of the Stuttgart resolution (“the demand for universal suffrage should be put forward simultaneously for both men and women”) undoubtedly relate to this episode of excessive “practicalism” in the history of the Austrian labour movement.

The resolution on the relations between the socialist parties and the trade unions is of especial importance to us Russians. The Stockholm. R.S.D.L.P. Congress went on record for non-Party unions, thus endorsing the neutrality standpoint, which has always been upheld by our non-Party democrats, Bernsteinians and Socialist-Revolutionaries. The London Congress, on the other hand, put for ward a different principle, namely, closer alignment of the unions with the Party, even including, under certain conditions, their recognition as Party unions. At Stuttgart in the Social-Democratic subsection of the Russian section (the socialists of each country form a separate section at international congresses) opinion was divided on this issue (there was no split on other issues). Plekhanov upheld the neutrality principle. Voinov, a Bolshevik, defended the anti-neutralist viewpoint of the London Congress and of the Belgian resolution (published in the Congress materials with de Brouckère’s report, which will soon appear in Russian). Clara Zetkin rightly remarked in her journal Die Gleichheit that Plekhanov’s arguments for neutrality were just as lame as those of the French. And the Stuttgart resolution—as Kautsky rightly observed and as anyone who takes the trouble to read it carefully will see—puts an end to recognition of the “neutrality” principle. There is not a word in it about neutrality or non-party principles. On the contrary, it definitely recognises the need for closer and stronger connections between the unions and the socialist parties.

The resolution of the London R.S.D:L.P. Congress on the trade unions has thus been placed on a firm theoretical basis in the form of the Stuttgart resolution. The Stuttgart resolution lays down the general principle that. in every country the unions must be brought into permanent and close contact with the socialist party. The London resolution says that in Russia this should take the form, under favourable conditions, of party unions, and party members must work towards that goal.

We note that the harmful aspects of the neutrality principle were revealed in Stuttgart by the fact that the trade-union half of the German delegation were the most adamant supporters of opportunist views. That is why in Essen, for example, the Germans were against Van Kol (the trade unions were not represented in Essen, which was a Congress solely of the Party), while in Stuttgart they supported him. By playing into the hands of the opportunists in the Social-Democratic movement the advocacy of neutrality in Germany has actually had harmful results. This is a fact that should not be overlooked, especially in Russia, where the bourgeois-democratic counsellors of the proletariat, who urge it to keep the trade-union movement “neutral”, are so numerous.

A few words about the resolution on emigration and immigration. Here, too, in the Commission there was an attempt to defend narrow, craft interests, to ban the immigration of workers from backward countries (coolies—from China, etc.). This is the same spirit of aristocratism that one finds among workers in some of the “civilised” countries, who derive certain advantages from their privileged position, and are, therefore, inclined to forget the need for international class solidarity. But no one at the Congress defended this craft and petty-bourgeois narrow-mindedness. The resolution fully meets the demands of revolutionary Social-Democracy.

We pass now to the last, and perhaps the most important, resolution of the Congress—that on anti-militarism. The notorious Hervé, who has made such a noise in France and Europe, advocated a semi-anarchist view by naively suggesting that every war be “answered” by a strike and an uprising. He did not understand, on the one hand, that   war is a necessary product of capitalism, and that the proletariat cannot renounce participation in revolutionary wars, for such wars are possible, and have indeed occurred in capitalist societies. He did not understand, on the other hand, that the possibility of “answering” a war depends on the nature of the crisis created by that war. The choice of the means of struggle depends on these conditions; moreover, the struggle must consist (and here we have the third misconception, or shallow thinking of Hervéism) not simply in replacing war by peace, but in replacing capitalism by socialism. The essential thing is not merely to prevent war, but to utilise the crisis created by war in order to has ten the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. However, underlying all these semi-anarchist absurdities of Hervéism there was one sound and practical purpose: to spur the socialist movement so that it will not be restricted to parliamentary methods of struggle alone, so that the masses will realise the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labour solidarity and of the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses.

Bebel’s resolution (move.d by the Germans and coinciding in all essentials with Guesde’s resolution) had one shortcoming—it failed to indicate the active tasks of the proletariat. This made it possible to read Bebel’s orthodox propositions through opportunist spectacles, and Vollmar was quick to turn this possibility into a reality.

That is why Rosa Luxemburg and the Russian Social-Democratic delegates moved their amendments to Bebel’s resolution. These amendments (1) stated that militarism is the chief weapon of class oppression; (2) pointed out the need for propaganda among the youth; (3) stressed that Social-Democrats should not only try to prevent war from breaking out or to secure the speediest termination of wars that have already begun, but should utilise the crisis created by the war to hasten the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

The subcommission (elected by the Anti-Militarism Commission) incorporated all these amendments in Bebel’s resolution. In addition, Jaurès made this happy suggestion: instead of enumerating the methods of struggle   (strikes, uprisings) the resolution should cite historical examples of proletarian action against war, from the demonstrations in Europe to the revolution in Russia. The result of all this redrafting was a resolution which, it is true, is unduly long, but is rich in thought and precisely formulates the tasks of the proletariat. It combines the stringency of orthodox—i. e., the only scientific Marxist analysis with recommendations for the most resolute and revolutionary action by the workers’ parties. This resolution cannot be interpreted à la Vollmar, nor can it be fitted into the narrow framework of naïve Hervéism.

On the whole, the Stuttgart Congress brought into sharp contrast the opportunist and revolutionary wings of the international Social-Democratic movement on a number of cardinal issues and decided these issues in the spirit of revolutionary Marxism. Its resolutions and the report of the debates should become a handbook for every propagandist. The work done at Stuttgart will greatly promote the unity of tactics and unity of revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of all countries.