Greetings to the Italian Socialist Party Congress

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The Italian Socialist Party was founded in 1892 and from the very start became the scene of a sharp struggle on all basic political and tactical issues between the opportunist and revolutionary forces. At its Congress in Reggio-Emilia (1912), the more outspoken reformists, who supported the war and co-operation with the government and the bourgeoisie, were expelled under pressure from the Left. Prior to Italy’s entry into the First World War, the party opposed war and advocated neutrality. In December 1914 it expelled a group of renegades (among them Mussolini) for supporting the imperialist policy of the bourgeoisie and urging Italy’s entry into the war. When Italy did enter, in May 1915, the party split into three distinct factions: = (1) the Right wing, which helped the bourgeoisie prosecute the war, = (2) the Centrists, who made up the majority of the party and pursued a policy of “no participation in the war and no sabotage of the war”, and = (3) the Left wing, which took a more resolute stand, but failed to organise a consistent struggle against the war. The Lefts did not realise the need to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, or to break with the reformists, who were cooperating with the bourgeoisie.

The Italian socialists held a joint conference with the Swiss socialists in Lugano (1914), took an active part in the international socialist conferences at Zimmerwald (1915) and Kienthal (1916).

The party leaders, Lazzari and Serrati, exposed the imperialist and predatory plans of the bourgeoisie and actively facilitated the restoration of international Social-Democratic contacts.

Lenin’s message of greetings was addressed to the party Congress held in Zurich on October 15–16, 1916, and was read at its opening session, on October 15. A brief report of the Congress appeared in Avanti! No. 290, October 18, 1916.

Towards the end of 1916, the reformists gained the upper hand and the party shifted to social-pacifism.

Dear Comrades,

On behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, I convey greetings to the Congress of the Italian Socialist Party and wish it every success in its work.

Yours is the first socialist party to do what all socialist parties of the warring countries could and should have done, had they not betrayed socialism and sided with the bourgeoisie, namely: convene a congress or conference in a free country, beyond the reach of their “native” military censorship and military authorities, in a country where the socialist attitude towards the war can be freely ex pressed and discussed. Permit me to express the hope that your Congress—free of patriotic muzzles—will accomplish as much or even more than your party has already accomplished in the struggle against the betrayal of socialism by nearly all the European socialist parties.

Representatives of our two parties worked together at Zimmerwald and Kienthal. The only serious difference dividing us was over the inevitability and necessity of breaking with the social—chauvinists, i.e., socialists in words and chauvinists in deeds, namely, with all those who advocate or seek to justify “defence of the fatherland” in the present imperialist war, who directly or indirectly support their “own” government and their “own” bourgeoisie in this reactionary, predatory war for division of colonies and world domination. We believe that a break with the social-chauvinists is historically inevitable and necessary if the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle for socialism is to be sincere, and not confined merely to verbal protests. Your party’s representatives believed there was still hope that proletarian victory over the social—chauvinists (“sciovinisti”) could be achieved without a break.

We would like to hope that developments in world socialism will increasingly remove the grounds for this difference between us.

On the one hand, the workers’ movement is increasingly developing towards a factual division into adherents and opponents of “defence of the fatherland” in this imperialist war and in subsequent imperialist wars, which are being prepared and instigated by the entire policy of all the modern so-called “Great” Powers. This applies to the whole world, not only to the belligerent countries, but also to the chief neutral powers—the United States of America, for instance, the foremost capitalist country.

On the other hand, we read with especial pleasure an editorial in a recent issue of Avanti!, the Central Organ of the Socialist Party, “La chiusura della conferenza socialista tedesca”.[1] This Conference of the German Socialist Party was one of the most outstanding events in world socialism in recent months, for at it there clashed three principal trends not only in German, but in-world socialism: first, avowed social-chauvinism represented by Legien, David and Co. in Germany, Plekhanov, Potresov, Chkhenkeli in Russia, Renaudel and Sembat in France, Bissolati and his party in Italy; second, the Haase-Kautsky trend which subscribes to the basic idea of social-chauvinism, namely, “defence of the fatherland” in the present war, and seeks to reconcile this idea with genuine socialism and internationalism; and, third, the genuine socialist and internationalist trend represented by the Internationale group and international socialists in Germany.[2]

Evaluating these three trends, Avanti! (No. 269, September 27, 1916) wrote in the above-mentioned editorial:

“ proletariato tedesco finir‘a indubbiamente per trionfare contro i Legien, gli Ebert ed i David, che hanno preteso di compromettere la sua azione di classe nei tristi pattegiameni coi Bethmann-Hollweg e gli altri fautori della guerra. Di questo noi abbiamo la pi‘u schietta certezza.”

Noi abbiamo la medesima certezza.

“Piuttosto”—continues Avanti!—“la conferenza dei socialisti tedeschi ci lascia incerti circa l’atteggiamento prossimo di una parte della opposizione, quella che ebbe per esponente principale l’Haase”.

“Il gruppo ‘Internazionale’ con Liebknecht, con Mehring, con Clara Zetkin, con Rosa Luxemburg—con tutti gli altri ‘sabotatori e traditori della patria’ è perfettamente a posto.”

...“Meno conseguente ci ‘e parso Haase”.[3]

And Avanti! explains what it considers to be the “inconsistency” of Haase and his group, which we in our press call the Kautsky trend in world socialism,

essi non accettano le logiche e naturali conseguenze cui sono giunti Liebknecht e compagni”.[4]

So writes Avanti!

We whole-heartedly welcome these statements of Avanti! We feel sure that the Vorwärts, Central Organ of the German Social-Democrats and chief organ of the Kautsky trend, is wrong when it writes, in its issue of October 7, 1916, in connection with this Avanti! statement,

“dass der Avanti! über die Parteiverhältnisse und Parteivorgänge in Deutschland nicht ganz zutreffend informiert ist.”[5]

We feel sure that Avanti! is “ganz zutreffend”[6] informed. That it considers the Haase group wrong and the Liebknecht group right is no accident. We therefore hope that, by its defence of Liebknecht’s principles and tactics, the Italian Socialist Party will occupy an outstanding place in international socialism.

Our Party finds itself in incomparably more difficult conditions than the Italian party. Our entire press has been clamped down. But even in emigration we have been able to assist our comrades’ struggle in Russia. Two facts prove that our Party’s anti-war struggle in Russia is the struggle of truly front-rank workers and the masses of workers. Firstly, our Party’s deputies in the Duma—Petrovsky, Shagov, Badayev, Samoilov and Muranov—elected by the workers of the leading industrial gubernias, have been exiled to Siberia by the tsarist government for revolutionary propaganda against the war.[7] Secondly, long after their exile, the front-rank workers in St. Petersburg belonging to our Party categorically rejected participation in the war industries committees.

A conference of Entente socialists[8] is being convened in January 1917. We have already had one experience of participation in such a conference in London. Our representative was denied the floor the moment he dared tell the truth about the European socialists’ betrayal.[9] We there fore consider that only the Bissolatis, Plekhanovs, Sembats and tutti quanti should share in these conferences. For that reason we do not intend to attend the conference, and we shall address a letter to the European workers exposing the social-chauvinists’ deception of the people.

I once again convey greetings to the Congress of the Italian Socialist Party and best wishes for its success.

  1. Conclusion of the German Socialist Conference”.—Ed.
  2. International Socialists of Germany (Internationale Sozialisten Deutschlands, I.S.D.)—a group of Left-wing German Social-Democrats who during the First World War united around the magazine Lichtstrahlen (Rays), published in Berlin from 1913 to 1921. The I.S.D. openly opposed war and opportunism, were the most consistent advocates of a break with the social-chauvinists and Centrists. Their leader, Julian Borhardt, signed the draft resolutions and manifesto of the Zimmerwald Left, to which the group affiliated shortly after the Zimmerwald Conference; an announcement to that effect appeared in its Internationale Flügbleitter (International Leaflets) No. 1, 1915. The I.S.D. had no substantial mass support and soon fell apart.
  3. Undoubtedly the German proletariat will, in the end, triumph over the Legiens, Eberts and Davids, who have sought to compromise its class struggle by wretched deals with the Bethmann-Hollwegs and other supporters of the war. We are fully convinced of that.”
    We, too, are convinced of that.
    “Nevertheless,” Avanti! continues, “the German Socialist Conference provides no indication of the future conduct of that section of the opposition of which Haase is the chief representative.”
    “The Internationale group of Liebknecht, Mehring, Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg—together with all the other ‘saboteurs and traitors to the fatherland’—unfailingly remain at their posts.”
    Haase appears to us to be less consistent.”—Ed.
  4. they do not accept the logical and natural conclusions drawn by Liebknecht and his comrades”.—Ed.
  5. that Avanti! is not quite correctly informed about the affairs of and relations within the party in Germany”.—Ed.
  6. quite correctly”.—Ed.
  7. From the very outbreak of the war, the Bolshevik Duma members, A. Y. Badayev, M. K. Muranov, G. I. Petrovsky, F. N. Samoilov and N. R. Shagov, came out in energetic support of working-class interests. In compliance with Party policy, they refused to vote for war credits, exposed the imperialist and anti-popular nature of the war, brought the true facts to the knowledge of the workers and roused them to struggle against tsarism, the bourgeoisie and the landlords. They were tried for their revolutionary activities and exiled to Siberia. Lenin discusses the trial in his article “What Has Been Revealed by the Trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Duma Group” (see present edition, Vol. 21, pp. 171–77).
  8. The Conference of Entente Socialists was sponsored by the French social-chauvinists Albert Thomas, Pierre Renaudel and Marcel Sembat. On Lenin’s advice, the RSDLP Central Committee issued a statement exposing the treasonous aims of the conference and urging all internationalists to steer clear of it. The RSDLP Central Committee asked the Executive Socialist Committee in Berne to call together conference delegates from Zimmerwald organisations in order to work out a joint policy. The RSDLP Central Committee statement was published in December 1916, in No. 2 of Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata. The conference was postponed and was finally held in London on August 28, 1917.
  9. Reference is to the Conference of Entente Socialists held in London on February 14, 1915 and attended by representatives of social—chauvinist and pacifist groups in England, France, Belgium and Russia.
    The Bolsheviks were not invited, but on Lenin’s instructions M. M. Litvinov attended the Conference and read a statement of the RSDLP Central Committee, based on a draft drawn up by Lenin. It demanded that socialists resign from bourgeois governments, renounce alliance and co-operation with the imperialists, wage an energetic struggle against imperialist governments and refuse to vote war credits. The statement was published in Sotsial Demokrat, the RSDLP Central Organ, March 29, 1915, No. 40. Lenin discusses the Conference in his articles “The London Conference” and “On the London Conference” (see present edition, Vol. 21, pp. 132–34, 178–80).