Kautsky, Axelrod and Martov—True Internationalists

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 28 September 1915

Written not earlier than September 28 (October 11), 1915
Published: First published in 1924, in the journal Protstarkaya Revolutsia No. 3 (26). Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 394-400.

Shortly before the Zimmerwald Conference, a pamphlet by P. Axeirod, came out in Zurich in the German language, under the title of The Crisis and the Tasks of International Social-Democracy.[1] The Zurich Volksrecht subsequently pub-lished two articles by L. Martov in praise of the pamphlet. We do not know whether the two authors will bring out these works in Russian. It would be hard to find a better illustration of the way the leaders of the Organising Committee are defending opportunism and social-chauvinism.

The struggle against “dangers threatening party unity” runs through the whole pamphlet. “A rupture and dissension”—this is what Axeirod is afraid of, and endlessly repeats ad nausearn. Do not imagine, however, that it is the present state of affairs in Social-Democracy, the present alliance between its leaders and their respective national bourgeoisie, that Axelrod considers dissension and a rup-ture. Oh, no! In Axelrod’s opinion, dissension means drawing a clear line of distinction between true socialists and social-chauvinists. Kautsky is numbered by Axeirod among the comrades “whose internationalist sentiments and con-sciousness are beyond any doubt”. Yet, in all the forty-six pages of the pamphlet there is not the slightest attempt to bring Kautsky’s views together, quote them correctly, and ascertain whether recognition of the defence of the father-land idea in the present war does not imply chauvinism. Not a word on the issue, or about our arguments. What we find is a “report to the authorities”. In the course of a lecture delivered in Zurich, Lenin, he writes, called Kautsky chauvinist, philistine, traitor (p. 21). Dear Martov and Axelrod, this is no longer literature, but a desk-sergeant’s report.

“In the West,” the pamphlet says, “we do not find that variety of supermen who utilise each party crisis, any difficult situation, to step forth in the role of the Party’s sole saviours from destruction, and light-heartedly conduct an inner-party policy of chaos and disorganisation” (p. 22). Is this literature?

But if there are no such super-monsters “in the West” who dare consider Kautsky and Axeirod chauvinists and. opportunists, and at the very thought of whom dear Axol-rod trembles With rage and emits a spate of such elegant and choice language, how could Axelrod have written two pages earlier:

“If one considers the indignation that is mounting in ever broader party circles, especially in Germany and France, against the policy of ‘seeing it through’ that is followed by our responsible party organs, it is by no means impossible that the practical tendencies of the Leninist propaganda may, through various channels, penetrate into the ranks of Western Social-Democracy.”

That being the case, the fault does not seem to lie with the genuinely Russian super-monsters who are flaying dear Axelrod! It would appear that the international chauvinism of the official parties—both in Germany and France, as Axeirod himself admits (note this!)—is evoking indignation in and resistance from international revolutionary Social-Democrats. Consequently, we have two trends, both international. The angry Axelrod is abusive because he does not realise the inevitability of both trends, of a decisive struggle between them; another reason is that it pains his conscience and sensibilities, and that it is not to his advantage openly to show his own stand, which consists in a desire to appear internationalist while being chauvinist.

“The problem of internationalising the working-class movement is not identical with the question of revolutionising our forms and methods of struggle,” he says; it is, as you see, “an ideological explanation” when one reduces everything to opportunism and ignores the “tremendous force” of “patriotic ideas” which are “the product of thousand-year-old historical processes”. “One must therefore strive”, he continues, “to create within the framework of this bourgeois society an actual reality [italics by Axelrod], objective conditions of existence, at least for the struggling masses of workers’, which can weaken the above-mentioned dependence”, namely, “the dependence of the masses upon the historically evolved national and territorial social formations”. “For instance,” Axeirod goes on to illustrate his profound idea, “labour protection and insurance legislation, as well as various other important political demands, and, finally, the cultural and educational needs and strivings of the workers, must become the object of their international [italics by Axelrod] action and organisations.” Everything, he says, reduces itself to “internationalising the day-by-day struggle for the demands of the moment”.

This is certainly enticing and so unlike the struggle against opportunism invented by some super-monsters! True internationalism in italics and a true “Marxism” that is not satisfied with “ideological” explanations consist in concern over the internationalisation of insurance legislation! Wonderful! The idea of a genius. Without any “struggle, rupture or dissension”, all international opportunists or international liberals, from Lloyd George to Friedrich Naumann and from Leroy Beaulieu to Milyukov, Struve and Guchkov, will eagerly subscribe to the scientific, profound and objective “internationalism” of Axeirod, Martov, and Kautsky.

Here are some real gems of “internationalism”! Kautsky says: If I defend my fatherland in an imperialist war, i.e., a war to plunder and enslave other countries, and recognise that the workers of the other belligerent countries are entitled to defend their fatherland, this is true inter-nationalism. Axelrod says: One must not be carried away by “ideological” attacks on opportunism but must carry on a practical struggle against thousand-year-old nationalism by means of (also a thousand-year-old) internationalisation of day-by-day work in the field of insurance laws. Martov agrees with Axelrod.

Axeirod’s phrases about the thousand-year-old roots of nationalism, etc., have about as much political sense as the declarations of the Russian serf-owners prior to 1861,[2] about the thousand-year-old roots of serfdom. Such phrases are grist to the mill of the reactionaries and the bourgeoisie, since Axelrod fails to mention—modestly fails to mention—that decades of capitalist development, particularly after 1871, have created those objective international links between the proletarians of all countries which today, at the present juncture, must find expression in international revolutionary action. Axeirod is opposed to such action. He is in favour of referring to the thousand-year-old roots of the knout, but he is opposed to action aimed at destroying the knout!

But what about the proletarian revolution? The 1912 Baste Manifesto spoke of it in connection with the impending war, which actually broke out two years later. Perhaps Axeirod considers that this manifesto is also frivolous “ideology”—an expression quite in the spirit of Struve’s and Cunow’s “Marxism”!—for he does not say a word about it. As for the revolution, he dismisses it as follows:

“The tendency to view stormy and revolutionary mass action or uprisings as the sole way of overcoming nationalism would have some justification if we were on the eve of a social revolution, in the very same way, for instance, as was the casein Russia beginning with the students’ demonstrations of 1901, which were the precursors of the approaching decisive battles against absolutism. But even those comrades who place all their hopes on the speedy beginning of a stormy revolutionary period will not risk stating definitely that the decisive conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is imminent. On the contrary, they too count on a period lasting decades” (p. 41). This, of course, is followed by fulmination against the “Utopia” and the “Bakuninists” among Russian \’emigr\’es.

This example, chosen by Axelrod, exposes our opportunist in peerless fashion. Could anybody in his right mind have “definitely stated” in 1901 that the decisive struggle against absolutism in Russia was “imminent”? Nobody could have done so and nobody did say so. Nobody could have known at the time that four years later one of the decisive clashes (December 1905) was to come, and that the next “decisive” battle against absolutism would take place perhaps in 1915-16, or even later.

If nobody asserted in 1901, either definitely or in any other way, that a decisive battle was “imminent”; if we declared at the time that the “hysterical” outcries of Krichevsky, Martynov and Co. about an “imminent” battle were lacking in seriousness, then we revolutionary Social-Democrats were at that time positively affirming something else: we affirmed that only hopeless opportunists could fail to understand in 1901 the task of actively supporting the revolutionary demonstrations of 1901, encouraging and developing them, and providing them with the most determined revolutionary slogans. History has proved that we, and only we, were right; history has condemned the opportunists, and has thrown them out of the working-class movement, although no decisive battle was “imminent” at the time, and the first decisive battle took place only four years later and yet did not prove to be the last battle, i.e., the final and decisive battle.

Today Europe is going through quite the same experience, literally the same experience. There cannot be the slightest doubt that a revolutionary situation exists in the Europe of 1915, as in the Russia of 1901. We cannot tell whether the proletariat’s first “decisive” battle against the bourgeoisie will take place in four years or two, within a decade or more; we cannot tell whether the second “decisive” battle will take place a decade after that, but we do know firmly and we declare “positively” that at present it is our immediate and bounden duty to support the growing unrest and the demonstrations which have already begun. It is a fact that in Germany a crowd has booed Scheidemann, and that in many countries crowds have demonstrated against the high cost of living. Axelrod is evading this immediate and imperative duty of Social-Democrats; Axelrod would dissuade the workers from performing that duty. If one weighs the political sum and substance of Axelrod’s arguments, one will see that he is with the leaders of social-patriotism and social-chauvinism, and against the immediate propaganda of and preparations for revolutionary action. This is the gist of the matter. All the rest is just words.

We are undoubtedly on the eve of a socialist revolution. This was recognised by ultra-cautious theorists, like Kautsky, as early as 1909 (Der weg zur Machi); it was recognised in the unanimously adopted Basic Manifesto of 1912. Just as in 1901 we did not know whether the “eve” of the first Russian revolution would last four years, we do not know that today. The revolution may and probably will consist of many years of fighting, of several periods of onslaught with intervals of counter-revolutionary convulsions of the bourgeois system. The main issue of the present political situation boils down to the question of whether the already existing revolutionary situation should be exploited by supporting and developing revolutionary movements. Yes or no? That is the question that at present politically divides social-chauvinists and revolutionary internationalists. Despite the revolutionary phrases of all three, as well as of the five secretaries of the Organising Committee abroad, Kautsky, Axelrod, and Martov are, on this issue, on the side of the social-chauvinists.

Axelrod makes use of a profusion of phrases to cover up his defence of social-chauvinism. His pamphlet may serve as an example of how opinions can be concealed and how language and print can be used to disguise ideas. Axelrod harps on the word internationalism. He censures both the social-patriots and their friends for not wanting to shift to the left, hints that he stands left of Kautsky , and speaks of the need for a Third International, which, he says, should be strong enough to reply to attempts by the bourgeoisie to kindle a world war conflagration “not with threats but by unleashing a revolutionary storm” (p. 14), and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In word, Axelrod is prepared to recognise anything, including a revolutionary storm; in deed, he wants unity with Kautsky and consequently with Scheidemann in Germany, with the chauvinist and counter-revolutionary Nashe Dyelo, and with Chkheidze’s group in Russia; in deed, he is against supporting and furthering at present the incipient revolutionary movement. In word, everything; in deed, nothing. In word, he vehemently avows that he is an “internationalist” and a revolutionary; in deed, he supports the social-chauvinists and opportunists of the whole world in their struggle against the revolutionary internationalists.

  1. Die Krise und die Aufgaben dee Inlernationalen Sozial-demokratieLenin
  2. The year of the abolition of serfdom in Russia.—Ed.