Wilhelm Kolb and George Plekhanov
|Written||29 February 1916|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, pubdate??, Moscow, Volume 22, pages 141-142
The pamphlet by the avowed German opportunist, Wilhelm Kolb, entitled Social-Democracy at the Cross-Roads (Karlsruhe, 1915), appeared opportunely after the publication of Plekhanov’s symposium, War. The Kautskyist Rudolf Hilferding wrote a very feeble reply to Kolb in the Neue Zeit, in which he evaded the main issues and sniveled over Kolb’s correct assertion that the unity of the German Social-Democrats was “purely formal.”
Whoever wishes to ponder seriously over the significance of the collapse of the Second International would do well to compare Kolb’s ideological position with Plekhanov’s. Like Kautsky, both agree on the fundamental issue: both reject and ridicule the idea of revolutionary action in connection with the present war; both accuse the revolutionary Social-Democrats of “defeatism,” using the favourite expression of the Plekhanovists. Plekhanov, who describes the idea of a revolution in connection with the present war as a “dream-farce,” rails against “revolutionary phraseology.” Kolb at every step curses “revolutionary phrases,” the “revolutionary fantasies,” the “little radicals” (“Radikalinski”) the “hystericals,” “sectarianism,” etc. Kolb and Plekhanov agree on the main issue: both are opposed to revolution. The fact that Kolb is generally opposed to revolution, whereas Plekhanov and Kautsky are “generally in favour,” is only a difference in shade, in words: in reality, Plekhanov and Kautsky are Kolb’s satellites.
Kolb is more honest, not in a personal, but in a political sense, that is, being consistent in his position, he is not a hypocrite. Hence, he is not afraid to admit the truth that, from his point of view, the entire International had been imbued with “the spirit of revolutionary fantasy,” that it had uttered “threats” (threats of revolution Messrs. Plekhanov and Kolb!) in connection with the war. Kolb is right when he says that it is ridiculous to “repudiate” capitalist society “in principle” after the Social-Democratic Parties of Europe had risen in its defence at the very moment when the capitalist state was cracking from top to bottom, when “its very existence was in question.” This admission of the objective revolutionary situation is the truth.
“The consequence” (of the tactics of Liebknecht’s followers), writes Kolb, “would be that the internal struggle within the German nation would reach boiling point and this would weaken its military and political power” ... to the advantage and victory “of the imperialism of the Triple Entente”!!
Here you have the crux of the opportunist railing against “defeatism.” This is really the crux of the whole question. “Internal struggle which has reached boiling point” is civil war. Kolb is right when he says that the tactics of the Left lead to this; he is right when he says that they mean the “military weakening” of Germany, i.e., desiring and aiding its defeat, defeatism. Kolb is wrong only—only!—in that he refuses to see the international character of these tactics of the Left. For “the internal struggle to reach boiling point,” the “weakening of the military power” of the imperialist bourgeoisie and (by virtue of this, in connection with it, by means of it) the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war are possible in all the belligerent countries. This is the crux of the whole question. We thank Kolb for his good wishes, admissions and illustrations; since all this comes from an exceedingly consistent, honest and avowed enemy of the revolution; it is particularly valuable as a means of exposing to the workers the hideous hypocrisy and the shameful spinelessness of the Plekhanovs and Kautskys.