Louis C. Fraina

Revolutionary Socialism

The Great Collapse

THE test of war during the fatal days of August, 1914, found the dominant Socialism in Europe corrupted by the ideology of national liberal ideals. Democracy and the nation were conceived as synonymous terms: German Socialism declared that Czaristic Russia menaced the democracy of Germany, while the Socialism of Great Britain and France declared that Germany’s autocracy menaced the democracy of the world. This ideology of national democracy and the defense of democracy through the nation persisted as a heritage from the days when democratic revolutions were national revolutions, and the nation was the carrier of democracy – of bourgeois democracy. But even in these revolutions it was the still immature class of workers that forced the furthest democratic advances; and to-day, under the conditions of Imperialism, the proletarian class struggle alone is the carrier of democracy, of the proletarian democracy which is the only alternative to Imperialism.

An ideology, however, develops out of material conditions and the material conditions of Imperialism produced a new ideology, the ideology of conquest and autocracy. Socialism still clung to the older ideology, in spite of new material conditions; and, moreover, while the phraseology was the same, it had come to mean different things. There was war, the nation was assailed, and it had to be defended as the carrier of democracy, but Imperialism had altered the circumstances and the purposes of the nation. Socialism marched out to fight for the nation, but it was an imperialistic nation and an imperialistic war, the most brutal and shameless war in all history. The voice was the voice of the democratic Jacob, but the hand was the hand of the imperialistic Esau. And, moreover, the dominant Socialism had itself subtly become imperialistic.

It is misleading, however, to maintain that organized Socialism collapsed upon the declaration of war and its failure to act against the war. Socialism collapsed during the imperialistic epoch of “armed peace” that preceeded the war; the collapse in August 1914 was the symbol of a development that marked the transformation of Socialism from a revolutionary and revolutionizing movement into a conservative and conserving factor in the governing system of things. Socialism had collapsed internally, in the national struggle against Capitalism, before it collapsed internationally: the one event followed fatedly and tragically upon the other. Socialism disintegrated as a revolutionary force during the days of peace because it did not carry on the aggressive struggle against imperialistic Capitalism; it disintegrated because it did not adapt itself to the requirements of the menace of war internationally, nor to the altered class relations within the nation. Moreover, organized Socialism could not carry on the aggressive struggle against Imperialism as it was constituted; it had first to transform its material bases and its official theory of State Capitalism; it had to reorganize in accordance with the altered class relations and forms of expression of class interests of Imperialism, adopt a new set of tactics and a new program of purposes determined by the new revolutionary epoch.

The fact is that, prior to the war, organized Socialism as a social force had merged into Imperialism, a “liberal” and “pacifist” Imperialism to a certain extent, but Imperialism none the less. The dominant and dominating elements in the Socialist movement – skilled labor, the small bourgeoisie, and the new middle class – had already been seduced by Imperialism. [1] They were not definitely aware of the fact, perhaps, because of an ideology no longer in accord with actual conditions; and this ideology was a mighty contributing factor in the great collapse. Social reform, which was the animating purpose of the movement, had become dependent upon the spoils of Imperialism; the institutions of the nation, in which Socialism was an integral factor, depended, immediately, upon the success of the nation in its imperialistic war. Nationalistic Socialism had a stake in the nation, imperialistic Socialism had a stake in an imperialistic war.

The one militant force which might have been mobilized in the revolutionary struggle, the industrial power of the proletariat of machine labor, which alone may act internationally because of its material conditions, was slightly if at all represented in the councils and proposals of Socialism. Socialism, accordingly, possessed neither the material basis of proletarian power nor the ideology of revolutionary action for the general struggle against Imperialism and war. There was in the Socialist movement no general conception of Imperialism and no real struggle against its menace, except among a small minority of revolutionary Socialists of the left.

The “armed peace” carried the threat of war, and war was the synthetic expression of the general conditions of Imperialism. But in compromising with forces the activity of which generate war, Socialism inevitably compromised with war itself. Its policy against war was a policy of pacifism, which attacks war but allows the class conditions that produce war to persist. The Socialist attack upon militarism, except among minor groups, proceeded within the orbit of pacifism and legality, the pacifism of the small bourgoisie and its psychological reflex, skilled labor. The compromise with militarism became general: in Germany, attested by voting the war budget in 1913 by the parliamentary Social Democracy under the cowardly and characteristically petty bourgeois pretext of “equalizing” taxation; in France and the International generally, by not emphasizing the campaign against Imperialism and militarism, or adopting the policy of pacifism in the campaign.

The policy on war and militarism of the dominant Socialism was as petty bourgeois as its policy on other major problems.

Instead of a revolutionary attack upon Imperialism and militarism and preparatious to prevent war or convert it into a civil war of the oppressed against the oppressors, and for Socialism, there was scheme after scheme proposed to evade war. The theory of Socialism made it visualize clearly the menace of war; its practice and animating purposes prevented it from offering any real opposition to the coming of war, and none to war itself. Socialism had an abiding horror of war – but sentiments are not a substitute for deeds; and this horror expressed itself while simultaneously pursuing a policy that promoted the coming of war. This horror of war the dominant Socialism shared with the petite bourgeoisie generally; but this bourgeoisie allied itself with an Imperialism that inexorably produced war. Capitalism itself, as a whole, may be said to have a horror of war: it is risky; but still it pursues a policy that makes for war, – a state of things particularly apparent in France. [2] The Dominant Socialism accepted the softening of class antagonisms through collectivism as a means of “growing into” Socialism; and it accepted pacifism and its policy of gradually softening and regulating national antagonisms as the means to general peace. One policy is related to the other, and each is the consequence of relinquishing the general revolutionary struggle against Capitalism, of the perversion of revolutionary Socialism ... And through the years comes the bitter sarcasm of Marx, “I sowed dragons’ teeth and I reaped fleas.”

It was a national set of circumstances that dictated this policy of the dominant Socialism; and Socialism clung to its nationalistic bias at a time when Capitalism was internationalizing itself through Imperialism. The coming of war and war itself can be effectively fought only by subordinating the national ideal to the international. This Socialism did not accomplish. At each international congress proposals for international action against war met disaster on the rocks of the national ideology dominating every Socialist party, – an ideology, moreover, which equally prevented national action against war. Imperialism negated nationalism, while using it in its service; Socialism emphasized nationalism. The result inevitably was disaster, a catastrophic collapse.

Under these conditions, Socialism might talk against impending war, but it could not act. In the tragic ten days of July it did talk, furiously, flamboyantly, smugly, but it never acted; it never considered action, satisfying itself with the pacifist activity of demonstration and denunciation.

The salient feature of the activity of dominant Socialism during these ten days was a dependence upon forces outside itself to prevent the coming of war. The Socialists denounced war; they held demonstrations; they threatened the governments; they did everything, in short, except that which might have produced results: definite, determined action based upon the class struggle and the revolutionary activity of the proletariat itself.

If the dominant Socialism had been revolutionary, it would have issued a declaration of distrust in all governments, actively and aggressively opposed the coming of war by deeds, and prepared for civil war in the event of a declaration of war. Action of this, character might have prevented war – a government would hesitate to engage in war without the support of the working class. But even if it did not prevent war, it would, at least, have beeen a gesture worthy of the revolutionary aspirations of Socialism; moreover, and still more important, it would have given Socialism and the proletariat a strategic and tactical advantage over the governments during the war, hastened the coming of peace and determined the conditions of peace; and, considering the Russian Revolution and the crisis precipitated by the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, it would have meant international action for the Social Revolution in Europe. But the dependence upon everything except the mass action of the proletariat, was fatal. Socialism was demoralized, corrupted, palsied except for evil, and the proletariat was curbed in its potential action.

The task of organizing action against an impending war in the form of an international General Strike was left to the discretion of the International Socialist Bureau by the Stuttgart Congress in 1907. The Bureau, meeting July 20, 1914, at Brussels, adopted a resolution of which two paragraphs are significant:

”The Bureau considers it an obligation for the workers of all nations concerned not only to continue but even to strengthen their demonstrations against war in favor of peace, and a settlement of the Austro-Servian conflict by arbitration.

”The German and French workers will bring to bear on their governments the most vigorous pressure in order that Germany may secure in Austria a moderating action, and in order that France may obtain from Russia an undertaking that she will not engage in the conflict. On their sides the workers of Great Britain and Italy shall sustain these efforts with all the power at their command.”

The only indication of the General Strike in the activity of the Bureau was in a resolution “congratulating” the workers of Russia “on their revolutionary attitude” [a big General Strike was on in Russia] and inviting them “to continue their heroic efforts against Czarism as one of the most effective guarantees against the threatened world war.” But if a General Strike in Russia, not directed primarily against the war and affecting only some hundreds of thousands of workers, was “one of the most effective guarantees against the threatened world war,” why did not the Bureau try to multiply this effectiveness by issuing a call for similar strikes in Germany and France against the war? It is clear why this was not done, because the dominant Socialism was not against the war in a revolutionary sense, if actually at all; it was against the war only in the sense of bourgeois pacifism, with the gangrene of a national ideology eating away at its vitals. Moreover, there was already talk of the defense of democracy and the nation, talk of this or that nation, always never one’s own nation, being the aggressor; there was no international unity during the crisis because there had not been any during the period proceeding. [3]

The dominant spirit at the great anti-war demonstration in Brussels, July 29, was one of impotent threatening and confidence in one’s own government. Emile Vandervelde spoke; so did Jean Jaurès and Hugo Haase. Haase held up the spectre of revolution – as if, not being backed up by definite, organized, aggressive action, it could frighten the governments; and the threat was still further invalidated by Haase’s statement that the German government was working for peace! Jaurès said that the French government, in co-operation with the “admirable” English government, was pursuing a policy of peace.

This was an attitude fraught with danger. The policy of peace a bourgeois government may pursue is circumscribed within the definite limits of ruling class interests; moreover, Jaurès’ and Haase’s attitude converted the possibility of proletarian acquiescence in the war into a certainty by developing confidence in the governments, which under all circumstances should be distrusted. France desired peace, but yet it was clear she would stand by Russia in the event of war; the imperialistic stakes were too immense. In this emergency, revolutionary Socialist action was indispensable and alone consistent, – unambiguous formulation of a policy directed against governments through strikes and general mass action. The good intentions of governments are as a reed, – and the revolutionist, of all people, should know it. The Social Democracy of Germany not only did not organize resistance against the government and the coming of war, but was already preparing to participate in the war: this was the hideous fact underneath all the grandiloquent phrases. The Berlin Vorwärts, in the early days, made more than one threat of revolution, and it tore to shreds the claim of a war of democracy against Czarism. But its editorial of July 28 concluded: “They [the peoples of Europe] demand from their governments intervention against this politcal madness. They demand unambiguous representations in Vienna, in Berlin, in St. Petersburg.” On August 1 the Vorwärts pleaded that “there is still time for negotiations.” But war was declared, and then came Socialist acquiescence in the infamy of an accomplished fact.

The policy and action described are typical of bourgeois pacifism generally – first denunciation and threats hurled at the government, then pleadings addressed to that same government, and then acquiescence in and acceptance of the acts of the governments. [4]

All through the crisis action was never proposed or pusued by the dominant Socialism; action was left to the governments. The governments acted for war; and then Socialism equally acted for war and justified the war, mobilized the masses for the war, thereby completely crushing the possibility of proletarian action, – except among minor groups and the intrepid Socialist Party of Italy.

The indictment against the dominant Socialism does not depend upon its failure to prevent the war: Socialism might not prevent a war, and still retain its integrity and revolutionary honor, prepared to act on the basis of the class struggle at the earliest opportunity. The American representatives of opportunist Socialism, together with their recognized leader, Morris Hillquit, argue that there was no collapse of the International because Socialism could not prevent the war. Admitting the premises, in spite of the fact that the dominant Socialism did not really try to prevent war, was not the general justification of the war by the dominant Socialism, and manufacturing its ideology, a collapse of the International? The stain upon the dominant Socialism of Europe, particularly of Germany and Austria, is that it used all its efforts to make an imperialistic war popular with the workers; it adopted the arguments of the imperialistic governments; it consciously mobilized the proletariat for slaughter in an imperialistic war. This is the real collapse, and the sophistry and hypocrisy, the dishonest “explanations” of the moderate Socialist explain nothing, except their own petty bourgeois ideals and revolutionary cowardice.

During the war, the dominant Socialism struck a truce with the ruling class “burgfrieden” in Germany, the “union sacré” in France. Socialism “suspended” the class struggle, relinquishing the final measure of its independence, and developed into an agency of the governments, acting with the turpitude of a moral pervert and the insolence of a gutter strumpet. The proletariat was offered as a sacrifice upon the altar of Mars by the very movement that previously offered it emancipation. The dominant Socialism manufactured an ideology for the war more subtle, more dangerous; more calculated to betray the proletariat to its class enemy, than all the acts and propaganda of the governments.

The official majority Socialists of Germany, directed by the infamous Scheidemann, became the confidantes of the government and its comis voyageurs: they went to Belgium to “explain” to the Socialists that Germany could not have acted otherwise than by violating Belgium; they went to Italy to seduce the Socialist Party to advocate Italy’s entrance into the war on the side of Germany, but were contemptuously rejected and bastinadoed. Jules Guesde – yes, the revolutionary Jules Guesde of yesteryear – urged Italy to war in the cause of democracy; and Guesde, Albert Thomas and the majority in the French party developed into uncompromising adherents of “war to the finish,” come what might. The Socialist majority became an active force in suppressing potential proletarian revolt; it generally acquiesced in the most brutal acts of the governments. When the German proletariat prepared great strikes and demonstrations for May Day 1917, the Vorwärts carried on a propaganda against the plans, aided and abetted by the party bureaucracy. Civil peace was maintained by Socialism, in spite of the fact that Capitalism repeatedly violated the peace in its own sinister interests. The Russian Revolution, particularly when it definitely developed into a proletarian revolution, sent a thrill of energy and enthusiasm through the proletariat of Europe, but it could not immediately break the shackles imposed upon it by the dominant Socialism, which used all its power to prevent a revolutionary uprising. The French parliamentary Socialists answered the call to action of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia by the petty bourgeois appeal for the Revolution to align itself with the Allies, – in the words of Guesde – “first victory, and then the republic.” The great strikes and demonstrations of January and February 1918 in Austria and Germany, were broken by the antagonism of the dominant Socialism and the imperialistic regular unions of skilled labor; while the Vorwärts declared that it didn’t want a revolution, but simply that the government should “mediate” the differences between it and the proletariat.

During the war, dominant Socialism acted as the governments acted; a volte face on the part of the governments usually produced the same result among the representatives of the petit-bourgeois Socialists, who indulged in contemptible intrigues in the interest of their particular imperialistic government. The attempt to convene a Socialist Congress for peace at Stockholm in 1917 was vitiated by the dominant Socialism of the Allies and turned into a miserable pro-German intrigue by the cohorts of Scheidemann and Victor Adler. The dominant Socialism entered the active service of Imperialism, becoming its most valued ally where it should have been its worst enemy.

The class struggle is fundamental. Divested of jhe class struggle, Socialism becomes either utopia or reaction. But events are instinct with a fatal logic: the process of softening class antagonisms and divisions during peace inevitably generates the complete abandonment of the class struggle during war. The cycle of collapse is completed. It isduring war that the class struggle should reach its maximum intensity: all the conditions of multiplied oppression and ex ploitation are a call to carry on the class struggle. War does not change the issue, but emphasizes it: the class struggle against Capitalism. [5]

Each and every abandonment of the class struggle is a step away from Socialism. The nation has become imperialistic. In the course of the war, accordingly, the national democratic ideology was transformed by large groups within the Socialist movement, who projected an imperialistic ideology and accepted Imperialism as a necessary stage to Socialism. Heinrich Cunow, one of the intellectual leaders of the German Social Democracy, is characteristic of these groups in his theoretical defense of Imperialism. Cunow maintains that there will be no immediate collapse of Capitalism and no early victory of Socialism; that illusions arising out of this belief are responsible for Socialist disappointment caused by the war. Cunow counsels a closer scrutiny of the actual course of development, and proceeds to a defense of Imperialism:

”The new imperialistic phase of development is just as necessarily a result of the innermost conditions of the financial existence of the capitalist class, is just as necessary a transitional stage to Socialism, as the previous stages of development, for example, the building up of large scale industry ... The demand, ‘we must not allow Imperialism to rule, we must uproot it,’ is just as foolish as if we had said at the beginning of machine industry: ‘no machine must be tolerated, let us destroy them, and let us henceforth allow only hand-work.’”

Cunow’s conclusion is legitimate in the light of the petty bourgeois, reformist activity of the Social Democracy. The struggle against Imperialism is futile if it is limited within the orbit of Capitalism. But Imperialism is the climax of the development of Capitalism; it means Capitalism, fully developed, trying to break through the national ideology and national frontiers in a desperate effort to maintain its ascendancy by conquering new fields of expansion; and it means, accordingly, Capitalism initiating an epoch in which the Social Revolution becomes a necessity and a fact. The struggle against Imperialism must consist of the revolutionary strugggle of the class conscious proletariat for the Social Revolution. Imperialism is a menace: it is a menace to the old system of Capitalism and it is a menace to the oncoming system of communist Socialism. Imperialism is the desperate attempt of Capitalism to maintain its supremacy, and it sets the world afire in the desperation of its struggles. Capitalism is revolting against the fetters imposed by its own contradictions, through Imperialism; the proletariat must respond by the class struggle against Capitalism and Imperialism, by the Social Revolution. But this conclusion and necessity, clearly, imply a struggle of the oncoming proletarian revolution against the dominant Socialism. The petty bourgeois, reformistic Socialism rejects the struggle against Imperialism and collapses tactically because it is itself a part of the imperialistic epoch; it, accordingly, accepts Imperialism as a necessary stage to Socialism, meanwhile clownishly crying that it is all in accord with revolutionary Marxism, that the inevitable collapse of Capitalism is coming, anyhow: “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” The sins of Imperialism are washed clean in the holy water of pseudo-Marxian theory.

The spirit of Cunow’s analysis, moreover, expresses a dangerous tendency latent in pseudo-Marxian thought, and which contributed intellectually to the great collapse. It is what may be termed the “historical imagination,” the tendency to view contemporary phenomena as one views the phenomena of history, in scholarly retrospection. This necessarily leads to reactionary concepts and paralysis of action. If there is error in the judgment of history, hovr much more might there not be in judging history in the making? Even in history only the large, general developments can be considered inevitable, – the broad tendencies of social evolution. One may speak of the “inevitable” this and the “inevitable” that after the event, perhaps; but it is dangerous to do so before the event. And particularly if we possess an insight into the processes of history; for of what practical value is this insight if it is not used in an attempt, at the very least, to direct the course of history?

Cunow sees in Imperialism a “necessary transitional stage to Socialism.” The dominant Social Democracy of Germany seems to possess real genius for discovering “transitional stages” to Socialism, and for emphasizing any and all things except the revolutionary development and activity of the proletariat itself. A generation ago, the conquest of political democracy was considered a “necessary transitional stage” to Socialism, and ended in making the Social Democracy a party of bourgeois democracy and social reform. Now the German Socialist majority seems to have forgotten this particular “transitional stage” and allies itself with a very opposite tendency, Imperialism, the arch-enemy of democracy. [6] The prattle of ‘transitional stages” is simply a palliation of the refusal to engage in the revolutionary struggle. The imperialistic German government decides upon a certain political course, and then calls upon the historian and the philosopher to manufacture the intellectual justification; the German Social Democracy decides to adopt a non-Socialist policy, and then calls upon the pseudo-Marxist to harmonize it with the robust, revolutionary philosophy of Marx.

Imperialism is a necessary stage, and will become a permanent stage of Capitalism, if the Social Revolution is not considered. And the fight against Imperialism is a dynamic means of bringing the Social Revolution. Should Socialists cease their opposition to the exploitation of labor because that exploitation is necessarily a result of Capitalism? Is Socialism to become the historian, analyzing the developments of Capitalism, instead of a revolutionary and revolutionizing factor in these developments? Is the Socialist movement to renounce its revolutionary heritage for the flesh-pots of Imperialism? In fighting Imperialism Socialism doubly fights Capitalism; in abandoning the fight against Imperialism it simultaneously and necessarily abandons the fight against Capitalism. For Imperialism is nothing but an acute expression of Capitalism, a symptom that it is rotten-ripe for change. The development of machine industry was jan expression of Capitalism in its initial stage; Imperialism is an expression of the final stage of Capitalism, which to-day is over-developed. Capitalism seeks through Imperialism a means of avoiding an industrial and social collapse. The maturity of industrial development poses the problem – either Imperialism or Socialism. Cunow is wrong, there is an alternative to Imperialism, and that is Socialism, while there was none to machine industry. The answer of Capitalism to the impending collapse is Imrialism and war; the answer of Socialism can only be and must be the Social Revolution.

As the war developed, there was a slight recovery among the representatives of the center, typified by the majority at the Zimmerwald Conference, and which in Germany led to the formation of the Independent Socialist Party. The animating spirit of this party, however, was the old pseudo-Marxism which had justified the conservatism of the movement; it still expressed the facts of the labor and Socialist movement prior to the war, the old tactics, the old policy, not the new requirements of a revolutionary epoch. The new party reverted to the psychology of the past; it did not completely sever the strings that bound it to petty bourgeois, reformistic Socialism. The Independent Socialist Party waged a contemptible campaign against the Bolsheviki. Hugo Haase declared that it was legitimate to vote against the war credits, – because there was not a foreign soldier on German soil, thereby emphasizing the determination of the French Socialists to support their government, as German soldiers were on their soil.

The intellectual genius of the new party was Karl Kautsky, the vacillator, the harmonizer, the man who manufactured one theoretical justification after another for the abandonment of Socialism by the Social Democracy, the man who shortly after the war broke formulated the monstrous doctrines that the International was an instrument during peace, but not during war, and that all Socialists were justified in supporting their governments as under the conditions of Imperialism all nations were on the defensive. The Independent Socialist Party, as constituted, is a force for re-establishing the status quo ante, – a calamity that revolutionary Socialism must fight against with might and main. These representatives of the center did not issue a call to revolutionary action, they did not measure up to the requirements of a great historic crisis. The old phrases, the old policy, the old tactics: is it with these that we shall revolutionize the world? The dead must bury their dead. The bulk of the revolutionary Socialists of Germany, including Karl Liebnecht, Franz Mehring, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Radek, uncompromisingly attacked the new party, organizing independently, in the “Spartacus’” group and the group “Internationale.” The day of compromise is past forever: Socialism must completely re-constitute itself as an uncompromising revolutionary force in accord with the tactical necessity of the new epoch.

The old Social Democracy, captained by Scheidemann, retained possession of the machinery and press of the party, and became more completely identified with the capitalist state, more completely an integral part of the existing system of things. It made no bones of the matter, either. Unblushingly, insolently, it placed its faith in the might of the German nation, used all its energy for a victory of its national Imperialism. The emancipation of the proletariat, the Russian Revolution, the future of the world, were all meaningless to the Social Democracy, all simply instruments for promoting its bourgeois purposes by means of a brutal Imperialism. The existing system was accepted as the only conceivable basis upon which to work; this system should be modified, perhaps; but revolutionized – never! The state, the imperialistic state of Capitalism, was the centre of all activity, and the action of the Social Democracy was to be determined by the state. Socialism, according to the new dispensation, was no longer a class movement of the proletariat: it was a movement of all the classes, through the co-operation of which alone could Socialism be established. It was precisely this program and policy that the British Labor Party gradually developed under the pressure of war, and which it clearly formulated in January 1918. The Labor Party also accepted the war, and promoted the war by mobilizing the masses through the slogan of democracy; it became a part of the state, the main-stay of British hopes of victory; it constituted itself a party of all the classes by opening its doors to “workers of the brain.”

The Social Democracy was now definitely and completely a party of “laborism” and the small bourgeoisie, a counter-revolutionary partry over whose prostrate corpse alone the proletariat could march to victory. [7]

The Socialist-imperialist and social-patriot generally base their conception of “Socialism” upon the development of Capitalism in itself; the revolutionary Socialist bases it upon the class development of the proletariat. Capitalism is fully developed; the proletariat must develop the revolutionary consciousness and action for its historic mission of overthrowing class rule. Socialism cannot “grow into” Capitalism through collectivism and the co-operation of classes; Sojcialism must overthrow Capitalism. Instead of being softened, class antagonisms and the class struggle must be emphasized; instead of compromise with Capitalism, relentless attack upon the whole capitalist regime as determined by the conditions of Imperialism.

The issue posed by the great collapse is this: Shall Socialism organize dynamically for the overthrow of Capitalism, or shall it organize for the perpetuation of Capitalism through a policy of national social-Imperialism and State Capitalism?


1. The social-patriots are Socialists in words and patriots in fact, who agree to defend their fatherland in an imperialistic war, and particularly this imperialistic war. These men are our class-enemies. They have gone over to the bourgeois camp. They count among their numbers the majority of Social Democrats in every nation ... The social-patriots are the enemies of our class, they are bourgeois in the midst of the labor movement. They represent layers or groups of the working class which have been practically bought by the bourgeoisie, through better wages, positions of honor, etc., and which help their bourgeoisie to exploit and oppress smaller and weaker nations, and to take part in the division of capitalistic spoils. – N. Lenin, Task of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, Petrograd, September 1917.

2. The petit bourgeois sends to parliament a radical who has promised him to preserve peace ... This radical-“pacifistic” bloc of deputies gives birth to a radical ministry, which at once finds itself bound hand and foot by all the diplomatic and military obligations and financial interests of the French bourse in Russia, Africa and Asia. Never ceasing to pronounce the proper pacifistic sentences, the ministry and parliament automatically continue to carry on a world-policy which involves France in war. – Leon Trotzky, Pacifism in the Service of Imperialism, in The Class Struggle of November-December 1917.

3. The question how the war could be resisted was never even raised, because the question whether the war ought to be resisted was not even answered with a decisive Yes. – Anton Pannekoek, Imperialism and Social Democracy, International Socialist Review, October 1914.

4. In spite of its declaration against the war, the American Socialist party has pursued a similar policy – the ideas of its dominant personnel are identical with the social-pacifists and social-patriots in the European movement. The resolutions and declarations of the National Executive Committee since August 1914 are instinct with the spirit of bourgeois pacifism. The party bureaucracy allied itself with the “radical” pacifists, abandoned the class struggle, and confused the whole issue of war and peace. The Resolution against war adopted at the St. Louis Convention is largely contradictory and insincere: it means all things to all men. To be sure, the radical part of the delegates forced certain revolutionary declarations into the Resolution; but these have been repeatedly violated and abandoned by the party bureaucracy. Morris Hillquit, under pressure, accepted these declarations; and after the Convention proceeded to explain them away. The climax of his opportunist policy was his answer to the question put to him by William Hard whether, if he had been a member of Congress, he would have voted in favor of war. Hillquit answered (New Republic, December 1, 1917, reprinted in the New York Call of December 5): “If I had believed that our participation would shorten the world-war and force a better, more democratic and more durable peace, I should have favored the measure, regardless of the cost and sacrifices of America. My opposition to our entry into the war was based upon the conviction that it would prolong the disastrous conflict without compensating gains to humanity,” That’s all! – a complete abandonment and repudiation of the St. Louis Resolution, a policy of the worst bourgeois pacifism. Moreover, the officials of the party, and through them the party, became allied with the People’s Council, a typical product of bourgeois pacifism. The People’s Council, and through it the official bureaucracy of the Socialist Party, destroyed the peace movement, mobilized the ideology of the masses for the war by declaring President Wilson had adopted its terms of peace. Meyer London, the party’s representative in Congress, admirably performed the function of a lackey of Imperialism disguised by a bland hypocrisy of words and deeds. When the proletarian revolution in Russia swept into power, the party officially was silent, while the New York Call confessed an ignorance bordering on intellectual bankruptcy and an infamous palliation of its petty bourgeois soul. The party was silent on the Russian proposal for an armistice; it was silent on the peace policy of the proletarian revolution, and after President Wilson spoke nice words about the Russians, the National Executive Committee adopted a resolution presumably in line with the policy of revolutionary Russia, but actually nothing of the sort. Moreover, the official leaders of the party openly or covertly justify the policy of majority Socialism in Europe; and they will after the war in all probability agree with Scheidemann, Thomas & Co., on the theory that the social-patriots engaged in a “defensive” war. The party membership on the whole revealed a fine integrity and instinctive class consciousness, but it was baffled by the party bureaucracy, which divided into adherents of the war and adherents of a policy of conciliation and pacifism.

5. To the great historic appeal of the Communist Manifesto is added an important amendment and it reads now, according to this revision : “Workers of the world unite in peace and cut one another’s throats in war!” Today, “Down with the Russians and French!” – tomorrow, “We are brothers all!” This convenient theory introduces an entirely novel revision of the economic interpretation of history. Proletarian tactics before the outbreak of war and after must be based on exactly opposite principles. This pre-supposes that social conditions, the bases of our tactics, are fundamentally different in war from what they are in peace. According to the economic interpretation of history as Marx established it, all history is the history of class struggles. According to the new revision, we must add : except in times of war. Now human development has been periodically marked by wars. Therefore, according to this new theory [advocated by Karl Kautsky, the harmonizer par excellence of bourgeois Socialist practices with pseudo-Marxian theory] social development has gone on according to the following formula: a period of class struggles, marked by class solidarity and conflicts within the nations; then a period of national solidarity and international conflicts – and so on indefinitely. Periodically the foundations of social life as they exist during peace change in time of war. And again, at the moment of the signing of a treaty of peace, they are restored. This is not, evidently, progress by means of successive “catastrophes;” it is rather progress by means of a series of somersaults. Society develops, we are to suppose, like an iceberg floating down a warm current; its lower portion is melted away, it turns over, and continues this process indefinitely. Now all the known facts of human history run straight counter to this new theory. They show that there is a necessary and dialectic relation between the class struggle and war. The class struggle develops into war and war develops into the class struggle; and thus their essential unity is proved. It was so in the medieval cities, in the wars of the Reformation, in the Flemish wars of liberation, in the French Revolution, in the American Rebellion, in the Paris Commune, and in the Russian uprising in 1905. [And in Russia, again in 1917.] – Rosa Luxemburg, The Class Struggle During War, in The International (1915), a magazine started by Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring, and suppressed by the German government after the appearance of the first issue. (Reprinted in The New International of May 5, 1917.)

6. The cross-currents of Socialist thought are not developed clearly in the American movement, because of its historical conditions. But they exist, if only in latent form. John Spargo, William English Walling, and others, including their Social Democratic League, adopted completely the standpoint of the most reactionary social-patriots of Europe. Ernest Untermann, in a series of articles in the Milwaukee Leader during 1915, accepted and applied Cunow’s position. In the course of his arguments, Untermann uses a phrase, “Revolution by Reaction,” which, caricature as it is and because it is caricature, aptly characterizes the Socialist-imperialist’s attitude. “Militarism,” says Untermann, “and colonial Imperialism today seem the worst enemies of Democracy and Socialism, yet no other power so rapidly and effectively enforces co-operative discipline, kills anarchist individualism, destroys petty business enterprise and undermines the whole capitalist system nationally and internationally so thoroughly as these arch-enemies of the common good are doing.” According to Untermann, “Our American imperialists, like their European brethren, must work for the revolution, whether they like it or not,” and he favored the conquest of Mexico, as it is a “perfervid illusion” to hope that “American intervention can and must be prevented:” “Now the alternative facing the American capitalists is: either a constitutional government of Mexicans controlled by influences hostile to American capitalists, or annexation of Mexico. If they choose annexation, they will give to the Mexicans with one hand what they take with the other. For if Mexico is annexed, the Mexican people lose their national independence, but they gain – admission to the American labor movement and the American Socialist Party.” Wonderful gains – considering the reactionary character of the American labor movement and Socialist Party, united against the unskilled workers and favoring anti-immigration. Untermann’s views are substantially the views of Victor L. Berger, who advocated editorially in the Leader the conquest of Mexico, and who is a social-imperialist and social-patriot of the worst type. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the policy of the American Socialist majority during peace is identical with, if a caricature of, the policy pursued by the European Socialist majority.

7. The Würzburg Congress of the Social Democracy, in the second half of 1917, formulated the new policy of the party. The delegates were in complete accord with the government and a policy of social-imperialism; the general sentiment was that it is about time to put an end to “cloister science,” and that the new program should be puri6ed of the “Marxist scholastic.” Scheidemann ushered in the new dispensation with a speech characteristic of the social-imperialist policy. Among other things, he said:

”With regard to tactics we have become more flexible; because, owing to the war, the worker’s position has considerably changed. Imperialism was forced to fight its battles in this war with the proletariat. And yet the war has not succeeded in strengthening the class rule of the bourgeoisie over the masses; but on the contrary the workers have everywhere learned that the state for which they fight will after the war be less than ever a mere class enemy. The working class is not any more an amorphous mass. It is an organized body. And there are a thousand reasons why the organized workers cannot oppose themselves to the state. This they have nowhere done. If organized labor fought the battles for the existence of the state it did not in the least intend to be a mere cannon fodder, and everywhere it held high its particular ideals and class objects. The proletariat is not a mercenary soldier of the ruling classes but an ally who came out of the need of the moment, who at the end, however, will present his bill.”

And this is what becomes of the historic mission of the proletariat to overthrow Capitalism – that it consciously ally itself with the bourgeoisie and march out, for the purpose of “presenting its bill,” to rape Belgium, devastate France, and crush the Russian Revolution! “The most interesting point in Scheidemann’s speech,” said the Berlin Vorwärts, “was the statement that the socialization of society can not be brought about through the exclusive efforts of Social Democracy. The solution of this great task awaits the aid of all other parties.” Oh, yes – yes, indeed. And the first step toward this peculiar Socialism, of course, is to destroy Serbia, subjugate Austria, rape Belgium, devastate France, crush the Russian Revolution, justify and promote the most brutal purposes of Imperialism, – and, incidentally, crush the on-coming proletarian revolution in Germany.


Last updated on 14.10.2007