Revolutionary Marxists at the International Socialist Conference, September 5-8, 1915

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 11 October 1915

Sotsial-Demokat No. 45–46, October 11, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 389-393.
Collection(s): Sotsial-Demokrat

The ideological struggle at the Conference was waged between a compact group of internationalists, revolutionary Marxists, and the vacillating near-Kautskyites, who formed the Right wing of the Conference. The unitedness of the former group is one of the most important facts and greatest achievements of the Conference. After a year of war, the trend represented by our Party proved the only trend in the International to adopt a fully definite resolution as well as a draft manifesto based on the latter, and to unite the consistent Marxists of Russia, Poland, the Lettish territory, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and Holland.

What arguments did the vacillating elements advance against us? The Germans admitted that we were advancing towards revolutionary battles, but, they said, we do not have to proclaim from the house-tops such things as fraternisation in the trenches, political strikes, street demonstrations and civil war. Such things are done, they said, but not spoken of. Others added: this is childishness, verbal pyro-technics.

The German semi-Kautskyites castigated themselves for these ridiculously, indecently contradictory and evasive speeches by passing a resolution of sympathy and a declaration on the need to “follow the example” of the members of the R.S.D.L. Duma group, who distributed Sotsial-Dernokrat, our Central Organ, which proclaimed civil war from the housetops.

You are following the bad example set by Kautsky, we replied to the Germans; in word, you recognise the impending revolution; in deed, you refuse to tell the masses about it openly, to call for it, and indicate the most concrete means of struggle which the masses are to test and legitimise in the course of the revolution. In 1847, Marx and Engels, who were living abroad-the German philistines were horrified at revolutionary methods of struggle being spoken of from abroad!-called for revolution, in their celebrated Manifesto of the Communist Party; they spoke forthright of the use of force, and branded as contemptible any attempt to conceal the revolutionary aims, tasks and methods of the struggle. The Revolution of 1848 proved that Marx and Engeis alone had applied the correct tactics to the events. Several years prior to the 1905 Revolution in Russia, Plekhanov, who was then still a Marxist, wrote an unsigned article in the old Iskra of 1901, expressing the editorial board’s views on the coming insurrection, on ways of preparing it, such as street demonstrations, and even on technical devices, such as using wire in combating cavalry. The Russian revolution proved that the old iskrists alone had approached the events with the correct tactics. We are now faced with the following alternative: either we are really and truly con-vinced that the war is creating a revolutionary situation in Europe, and that all the economic and socio-political cir-cumstances of the imperialist period are leading up to a revolution of the proletariat-in which case we are in duty bound to explain to the masses the need for revolution, call for it, create the necessary organisations, and speak fear-lessly and most concretely of the various methods of the forcible struggle and its “technique”. This duty of ours does not depend upon whether the revolution will be strong enough, or whether it will arrive with a first or a second imperialist war, etc. Or else we are not convinced that the situation is revolutionary, in which case there is no sense in our just talking about a war against war. In that ease, we are, in fact, national liberal-labour politicians of the Südekum-Plekhanov or Kautsky variety.

The French delegates also declared that the present situation in Europe, as they saw it, would lead to revolu-tion. But, they said, first, “we have not come here to pro-vide a formula for a Third international”; secondly, the French worker “believes nobody and nothing”; he is demoral-ised and satiated with anarchist and Hervéist phrases. The former argument is unreasonable, because the joint compromise manifesto does “provide a formula” for a Third International, though it is inconsistent, incomplete and not given sufficient thought. The latter argument is very impor-tant as a very serious factual argument, which takes the specific situation in France into account, nut. in the meaning of defence of the fatherland, or the enemy invasion, but in taking note of the “sore points” in the French labour move-ment. The only thing that logically follows from this, however, is that .the French socialists would perhaps join general European revolutionary action by the proletariat more slowly than others, and not that such action is un-necessary. The question as to how rapidly, in which way and in which particular forms the proletariat of the various countries ai+e capable of taking revolutionary action was riot raised at the Conference and could not have been. The con-ditions for this are not yet ripe. For the present it is our task to jointly propagandise the correct tactics and leave it to events to indicate the tempo of the movement, and the modifications in the mainstream (according to nation, locality and trade). If the French proletariat has been demor-alised by anarchist phrases, it has been demoralised by Mfllerandism too, and it is not our business to increase this demoralisation by leaving things unsaid in the mani-festo.

It was none other than Merrheim who uttered the characteristic and profoundly correct phrase: “The [Socialist] Party, Jouhaux [secretary of the General Confederation of Labour][1] and the government are three heads under one bonnet.” This is the truth, a fact proved by the experience of the year of struggle waged by the French international-ists against the Party and Messrs. 3 ouhaux, There is, however, only one conclusion to be drawn: the government cannot be fought unless the opportunist parties and the leaders of anarchosyndicalism are fought against. Unlike our resolution, the joint manifesto merely indicated the tasks in the struggle but did not say everything that should have been said about them.

Arguing against our tactics, one of the Italians said: “Your tactics come either too late [since the war has already begun] or too soon [because the war has not yet created the conditions for revolution]; besides, you propose to ‘change the programme’ of the International, since all our propaganda has always been conducted ‘against violence’.” It was very easy for us to reply to this by quoting Jules Guesde in En garde! to the effect that not a single influential leader of the Second International ever rejected the use of violence and direct revolutionary methods of the struggle in general. It has always been argued that the legal struggle, parliamentarism and insurrection are inter-linked, and must inevitably pass into each other according to the changes in the conditions of the movement. From the same book, En garde!, we quoted a passage in a speech delivered by Guesde in 1899, in which he spoke of the possibility of a war for markets, colonies, etc., and went on to say that if there were any French, German and British Millerands in such a war, then “what would become of international working-class solidarity?” In this speech Guesde condemned himself in advance. As for declaring propaganda of revolution “inopportune”, this objection rests on a confusion of concepts usual among socialists in the Romance countries: they confuse the beginning of a revolution with open and direct propaganda for revolution. In Russia, nobody places the beginning of the 1905 Revolution before January 1905,[2] whereas revolutionary propaganda, in the very narrow sense of the word, the propaganda and the preparation of mass action, demonstrations, strikes, barricades, had been conducted for years prior to that. The old Iskra, for instance, began to propagandise the matter at the end of 1900, as Marx did in 1847, when nobody thought as yet of the beginning of a revolution in Europe.

After a revolution has begun, it is “recognised” even by the liberals and its other enemies; they often recognise it so as to deceive and betray it. Before the revolution, revolutionaries foresee it, realise its inevitability, make the masses understand its necessity, and explain its course and methods to the masses.

By the irony of history, Kautsky and his friends, who tried to take out of Grimm’s hands the initiative of convening the Conference, and attempted to disrupt the Conference of the Left wing (Kautsky’s closest friends even went on a tour for this purpose, as Grimm disclosed at the Conference), were the very ones who pushed the Conference to the left. By their deeds, the opportunists and the Kautskyites have proved the correctness of the stand taken by our Party.