The Question of the Unity of Internationalists

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 1 May 1915

Sotsial-Demokrat No. 41, May 1, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 188-191.
Collection(s): Sotsial-Demokrat

The war has led to a grave crisis in the whole of international socialism. Like any other crisis, the present crisis of socialism has revealed ever more clearly the inner contradictions lying deep within it; it has torn off many a false and conventional mask, and has shown up in the sharpest light what is outmoded and rotten in socialism, and what its further growth and advance towards victory will depend on.

Practically all Social-Democrats in Russia realise that. the old divisions and groupings are, if not obsolescent, then at least undergoing a transformation. In the forefront is the division on the main issue raised by the war, viz., the division into “internationalists” and “social-patriots”. We have taken these terms from the editorial in Nashe Slovo No. 42, and for the time being shall not deal with the question of whether they should be supplemented by contrasting revolutionary Social-Democrats with national liberal-labour politicians.

It is not a matter of names, to be sure; the gist of the main present-day division has been correctly indicated in Nashe Slovo . The internationalists, it says, are “united in their negative attitude towards social-patriotism as represented by Plekhanov”. The editors call upon the “now disunited groups” “to come to an understanding and unite for at least a single act-expressing the attitude of Russian Social-Democrats towards the present. war and Russian social-patriotism”.

Besides this appeal through the press, the editors of Nashe Slovo have sent a letter to us and the Organising Committee, proposing that, with their participation, a conference be called to discuss the matter. In our reply we spoke of the necessity “to clarify certain preliminary questions, so as to know whether we are at one in the main issue”. We stressed two such preliminary questions: (1) no declaration would help unmask the “social-patriots” (the editors naming Plekhanov, Alexinsky, and the well-known group of Petrograd liquidationist writers who support the XYZ journal[1] who “falsify the will of the advanced proletariat of Russia” (the expression used by the editors of Nashe Slovo); to unmask the social-patriots, a protracted struggle is necessary; (2) what grounds were there to count the Organising Committee among the “internationalists”?

On the other hand, the Organising Committee’s secretariat abroad sent us a copy of its reply to Nashe Slovo, which, in short, asserted that a “preliminary” selection of certain groups and the “exclusion of others” were out of the question; and that “invitations to the conference should be sent to the representatives abroad of all party centres and groups that attended ... the Brussels Conference of the International Socialist Bureau before the war” (letter of March 25, 1915).

Thus, the Organising Committee has declined on principle to confer with the internationalists alone, since it wishes also to confer with the social-patriots (the Plekhanov and the Alexinsky trends are known to have been represented at Brussels). The same spirit marked the resolution of the Social-Democrats gathered in Nervi (Nashe Slovo No. 53), which was adopted following Yonov’s report (and obviously expressed the views of this representative of the most radical and internationalist elements in the Bund).

This resolution, which is highly characteristic and valuable in helping us specify the “middle road” being sought by many socialists living abroad, expresses sympathy with Nashe Slovo’s “principles”, but at the same time expresses disagreement with Nashe S/ova’s stand, “which consists in creating organisational divisions, uniting internationalist socialists alone, and defending the necessity of splits within socialist proletarian parties that have historically come into being”. In the opinion of the gathering, Nashe Slovo’s “one-sided handling” (of these questions) is “highly detrimental to clarification of problems connected with the restoration of the International”.

We have already pointed out that the views of Axeirod, the Organising Committee’s official representative, are social-chauvinist. Neither in the press nor in its correspondence has Nashe Slovo made any reply to this. We have pointed out that the Burid’s stand is the same, with a bias towards Germanophile chauvinism. The Nervi resolution has born this out in a manner which, if indirect, is highly significant: it has declared that unification of internationalists alone is harmful and schismatic. The question has been presented with a clarity that is most praiseworthy.

Still clearer is the Organising Committee’s reply, which expresses, not an oblique attitude towards the issue, but one that is straightforward and formal. We must confer, it says, not without the social-patriots, but with them.

We should be thankful to the Organising Committee for its letter to Nashe Slovo, confirming the correctness of our opinion of that body.

Does that mean that Nashe Slovo’s entire idea of uniting the internationalists has been wrecked? No, it does not. While there exist ideological solidarity and a sincere desire to combat social-patriotism, no failure of any conferences can check unity among internationalists. At the disposal of the editors of Nashe Slovo is the great instrument of a daily paper. They can do something immeasurably more businesslike and serious than calling conferences and issuing declarations; they can invite all groups, and themselves start: (1) to immediately evolve full, precise, unequivocal and perfectly clear definitions of the content of internationalism (it being a fact that Vandervelde, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Lensch, and Haenisch also call themselves internationalists!), of opportunism, the collapse of the Second International, the tasks and the methods of combating socialpatriotism, etc.; (2) to rally forces for a severe struggle for certain principles, not only abroad, but mainly in Russia.

Indeed, can anyone deny that there is no other way towards the victory of internationalism over social-patriotism, and that there can be none? Half a century of Russian political emigration (and thirty years of Social-Democratic emigration)-have these not shown that all declarations, conferences, etc., abroad are powerless, insignificant, and empty, unless they are supported by a lasting movement of some social stratum in Russia? Does not the present war also teach us that everything that is immature or decaying, everything that is conventional or diplomatic, will collapse at the first blow?

During the eight months of war, all Social-Democratic centres, groups, currents, and shades of opinion have held conferences with all and sundry, and have come out with “declarations”, i.e., made their opinions known to the public. Today the task is different, and closer to action: more distrust of resonant declarations and spectacular conferences; more energy in evolving precise replies and advice to writers, propagandists, agitators, and all thinking workers, written in a way that cannot but be understood; more clarity and purposefulness in mustering the forces for a long-term effort to give effect to such advice.

Much has been given to the editors of Nashe Slovo—after all, they are a daily paper!—and they will have much to answer for if they fail to carry out even this “minimum programme”.

A final remark: in May 1910, exactly five years ago, we made mention, in our press abroad, of a highly outstanding political fact, of “far greater significance” than the conferences and declarations of many very “powerful” Social-Democratic centres, i. e., the fact of the formation in Russia of a group of legalist writers working in the selfsame XYZ journal. What has been shown by the facts during these five years, so eventful in the history of the labour movement in Russia and the whole world? Have not the facts shown that in Russia we have a certain social nucleus to rally the elements of a national liberal-labour party (after the “European” pattern)? What are the conclusions forced on all Social-Democrats by the circumstance that, with the exception of Voprosy Strakhovaniya,[2] we see, in Russia, the open expression only of this current, Nashe Dyelo, Strahhovaniye Rabochikh, Severny Gobs,[3] Maslov and Plekhanov?

So we repeat: more distrust of resonant declarations, and more courage in facing grave political realities.

  1. Lenin is referring to Nasha Zarya, a journal of the Menshevik liquidators.
  2. Voprosy Strakhovaniya (Problems of Insurance)—a Bolshevik legal journal, published at intervals in St. Petersburg from October 1913 to March 1918. It worked, not only for the achievement of workers’ insurance, but also for the Bolshevik “uncurtailed slogans” of an eight-hour day, confiscation of the landed estates, and a democratic republic. The Bolsheviks A. N. Vinokurov, N. A. Skripnik, P. I. Stuka, N. M. Shvernik and others contributed to the journal.
  3. Severny Gales (Voice of the North)—Menshevik weekly, publshed in Petrograd from January to March 1915.