The Conference of the RSDLP Groups Abroad

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The reference is to the Conference of the RSDLP groups abroad, held in Berne on February 27-March 4, 1915. Convened on Lenin’s initiative, it was in fact a general conference of the Party, since neither a party congress nor an all-Russia conference could be convened during the war.

The Conference was attended by representatives of the RSDLP Central Committee, the RSDLP Central Organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, and delegates from RSDLP (Bolshevik) groups in Paris, Zurich, Geneva, Berne, Lausanne and from the Baugy group. Lenin was delegated by the Central Committee and the Central Organ, directed the work of the Conference, and made a report on the main item on the agenda, “The War and the Tasks of the Party". The Conference adopted resolutions on war as drafted by Lenin.

Held in Switzerland, a conference of the RSDLP groups whose members are resident abroad concluded its work several days ago. Besides discussing purely foreign affairs, which we shall try briefly to comment on in the next issues of the Central Organ, the conference framed resolutions on the important and burning question of the war. We are publishing these resolutions forthwith, in the hope that they will prove of use to all Social-Democrats who are earnestly seeking the way towards live work from the present-day welter of opinions which boil down to an acknowledgement of internationalism in word, and an urge to come to terms at any cost with social-chauvinism in deed. We might add that, on the question of the “United States of Europe” slogan, the discussion was purely political, it being decided that the question be deferred pending a discussion, in the press, of the economic aspect of the matter.

The Conference’s Resolutions[edit source]

The conference, which stands on the basis of the Central Committee’s Manifesto, as published in No. 33,[1] lays down the following principles designed to bring system into propaganda:

On the Character of the War[edit source]

The present war is imperialist in character. This war is the outcome of conditions in an epoch in which capitalism has reached the highest stage in its development; in which the greatest significance attaches, not only to the export of commodities, but a]so to the export of capital; an epoch in which the cartelisation of production and the internationalisation of economic life have assumed impressive proportions, colonial policies have brought about the almost complete partition of the globe, world capitalism’s productive forces have outgrown the limited boundaries of national and state divisions, and the objective conditions are perfectly ripe for socialism to be achieved.

The “Defence of the Fatherland” Slogan[edit source]

The present war is, in substance, a struggle between Britain, France and Germany for the partition of colonies and for the plunder of rival countries; on the part of tsarism and the ruling classes of Russia, it is an attempt to seize Persia, Mongolia, Turkey in Asia, Constantinople, Galicia, etc. The national element in the Austro-Serbian war is an entirely secondary consideration and does not affect the general imperialist character of the war.

The entire economic and diplomatic history of the last few decades shows that both groups of belligerent nations were systematically preparing the very kind of war such as the present. The question of which group dealt the first military blow or first declared war is immaterial in any determination of the tactics of socialists. Both sides’ phrases on the defence of the fatherland, resistance to enemy invasion, a war of defence, etc., are nothing but deception of the people.

At the bottom of genuinely national wars, such as took place especially between 1789 and 1871, was a long process of mass national movements, of a struggle against absolutism and feudalism, the overthrow of national oppression, and the formation of states on a national basis, as a prerequisite of capitalist development.

The national ideology created by that epoch left a deep impress on the mass of the petty bourgeoisie and a section of the proletariat. This is now being utilised in a totally different and imperialist epoch by the sophists of the bourgeoisie, and by the traitors to socialism who are following in their wake, so as to split the workers, and divert them from their class aims and from the revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie.

The words in the Communist Manifesto that “the working men have no country” are today truer than ever before. Only the proletariat’s international struggle against the bourgeoisie can preserve what it has won, and open to the oppressed masses the road to a better future.

The Slogans of the Revolutionary Social-Democrats[edit source]

“The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan, one that follows from the experience of the Commune, and outlined in the Basle resolution (1912); it has been dictated by all the conditions of an imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries.”[2]

Civil war, for which revolutionary Social-Democracy today calls, is an armed struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, for the expropriation of the capitalist class in the advanced capitalist countries, and for a democratic revolution in Russia (a democratic republic, an eight-hour working day, the confiscation of the landowners’ estates), for a republic to be formed in the backward monarchist countries in general, etc.

The appalling misery of the masses, which has been created by the war, cannot fail to evoke revolutionary sentiments and movements. The civil war slogan must serve to co-ordinate and direct such sentiments and movements.

The organisation of the working class has been badly damaged. Nevertheless, a revolutionary crisis is maturing. After the war, the ruling classes of all countries will make a still greater effort to throw the proletariat’s emancipation movement back for decades. The task of the revolutionary Social-Democrats—both in the event of a rapid revolutionary development and in that of a protracted crisis, will not consist in renouncing lengthy and day-by-day work, or in discarding any of the old methods of the class struggle. To direct both the parliamentary and the economic struggle against opportunism, in the spirit of revolutionary struggle of the masses—such will be the task.

The following should be indicated as the first steps to wards converting the present imperialist war into a civil war: (1) an absolute refusal to vote for war credits, and resignation from bourgeois governments; (2) a complete break with the policy of a class truce (bloc national, Burgfrieden ); (3) formation of an underground organisation wherever the governments and the bourgeoisie abolish constitutional liberties by introducing martial law; (4) support for fraternisation between soldiers of the belligerent nations, in the trenches and on battlefields in general; (5) support for every kind of revolutionary mass action by the proletariat in general.

Opportunism And The Collapse Of The Second International[edit source]

The collapse of the Second International is the collapse of socialist opportunism. The latter has grown as a product of the preceding “peaceful” period in the development of the labour movement. That period taught the working class to utilise such important means of struggle as parliamentarianism and all legal opportunities, create mass economic and political organisations, a widespread labour press, etc.; on the other hand, the period engendered a tendency to repudiate the class struggle and to preach a class truce, repudiate the socialist revolution, repudiate the very principle of illegal organisations, recognise bourgeois patriotism, etc. Certain strata of the working class (the bureaucracy of the labour movement and the labour aristocracy, who get a fraction of the profits from the exploitation of the colonies and from the privileged position of their “fatherlands” in the world market), as well as petty-bourgeois sympathisers within the socialist parties, have proved the social mainstay of these tendencies and channels of bourgeois influence over the proletariat.

The baneful influence of opportunism has made itself felt most strongly in the policies of most of the official Social-Democratic parties of the Second International during the war. Voting for war credits, participation in governments, the policy of a class truce, the repudiation of an illegal organisation when legality has been rescinded—all this is a violation of the International’s most important decisions, and a downright betrayal of socialism.

The Third International[edit source]

The war-created crisis has exposed the real essence of opportunism as the bourgeoisie’s accomplice against the proletariat. The so-called Social-Democratic “Centre”, headed by Kautsky, has in practice completely slid into opportunism, behind a cover of exceedingly harmful and hypocritical phrases and a Marxism falsified to resemble imperialism. Experience shows that in Germany, for instance, a defence of the socialist standpoint has been possible only by resolute opposition to the will of the majority of the Party leadership. It would be a harmful illusion to hope that a genuinely socialist International can be restored without a full organisational severance from the opportunists.

The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party must support all and every international and revolutionary mass action by the proletariat, and strive to bring together all anti-chauvinist elements in the International.

Pacifism and the Peace Slogan[edit source]

Pacifism, the preaching of peace in the abstract, is one of the means of duping the working class. Under capitalism, particularly in its imperialist stage, wars are inevitable. On the other hand, however, Social-Democrats cannot over look the positive significance of revolutionary wars, i.e., not imperialist wars, but such as were fought, for instance, between 1789 and 1871, with the aim of doing away with national oppression, and creating national capitalist states out of the feudal decentralised states, or such wars that may be waged to defend the conquests of the proletariat victorious in its struggle against the bourgeoisie.

At the present time, the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by a call for revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions and demoralise the proletariat, for it makes the proletariat believe that the bourgeoisie is humane, and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries. In particular, the idea of a so-called democratic peace being possible without a series of revolutions is profoundly erroneous.

The Defeat Of The Tsarist Monarchy[edit source]

In each country, the struggle against a government that is waging an imperialist war should not falter at the possibility of that country’s defeat as a result of revolutionary propaganda. The defeat of the government’s army weakens the government, promotes the liberation of the nationalities it oppresses, and facilitates civil war against the ruling classes.

This holds particularly true in respect of Russia. A victory for Russia will bring in its train a strengthening of reaction, both throughout the world and within the country, and will be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the peoples living in areas already seized. In view of this, we consider the defeat of Russia the lesser evil in all conditions.

The Attitude Towards Other Parties And Groups[edit source]

The war, which has engendered a spate of chauvinism, has revealed that the democratic (Narodnik) intelligentsia, the party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries (with complete instability of the oppositional trend, which is centred in Mysl), and the main group of liquidators (Nasha Zarya ) which is supported by Plekhanov, are all in the grip of chauvinism. In practice, the Organising Committee is also on the side of chauvinism, beginning with Larin and Martov’s camouflaged support of chauvinism and ending with Axelrod’s defence of the principle of patriotism; so is the Bund, in which a Germanophile chauvinism prevails. The Brussels bloc (of July 3, 1914) has disintegrated, while the elements that are grouped around Nashe Slovo are vacillating between a Platonic sympathy with internationalism and a striving for unity, at any price, with Nasha Zarya and the Organising Committee. The same vacillation is manifest in Chkheidze’s Social-Democratic group. The latter has, on the one hand, expelled the Plekhanovite, i.e., the chauvinist, Mankov; on the other hand, it wishes to cover up, by all possible means, the chauvinism of Plekhanov, Nasha Zarya, Axelrod, the Bund, etc.

It is the task of the Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia to consolidate the proletarian unity created in 1912-14, mainly by Pravda,[3] and to re-establish the Social-Democratic Party organisations of the working class, on the basis of a decisive organisational break with the social-chauvinists. Temporary agreements are possible only with those Social-Democrats who stand for a decisive organisational rupture with the Organising Committee, Nasha Zarya and the Bund.

  1. ↑ See pp. 25–34 of this volume.—Ed.
  2. ↑ See pp. 34 of this volume.—Ed.
  3. ↑ Pravda—a legal Bolshevik daily published in St. Petersburg. Founded in April 1912, on the initiative of the St. Petersburg workers.
    Pravda was a popular working-class newspaper, published with money collected by the workers themselves. A wide circle of worker correspondents and worker-publicists formed around the newspaper. Over eleven thousand correspondence items from workers were published in a single year. Pravda had an average daily circulation of 40,000, with some issues running into 60,000 copies.
    Lenin directed Pravda from abroad, where he was living. He wrote for the paper almost daily, gave instructions to the editorial board, and rallied the Party’s best literary forces around the newspaper.
    Pravda was constantly persecuted by the police. During its first year of existence it was confiscated forty-one times, and thirty-six legal actions were brought against its editors, who served prison sentences totalling forty-seven and a half months. In the course of twenty-seven months Pravda was banned eight times by the tsarist government, but reissued under the new names of Rabochaya Pravda, Severnaya Pravda, Pravda Truda, Za Pravdu, Proletarskaya Pravda, Put Pravdy, Rabochy, and Trudovaya Pravda. The paper was closed down on July 8 (21), 1914, on the eve of World War I.
    Publication was not resumed until after the February Revolution. Beginning from March 5 (18), 1917, Pravda appeared as the Central Organ of the RSDLP Lenin joined the editorial board on April 5 (18), on his return from abroad, and took over the paper’s management. On July 5 (18), 1917, the Pravda editorial office was raided by military cadets and Cossacks. In July-October 1817 Pravda frequently changed its name as a result of persecution by the Provisional Government. It appeared successively under the names of Listok Pravdy, Proletary, Rabochy, and Rabochy Put. On October 27 (November 9) the newspaper began to appear under its former name—Pravda.