Alexandra Kollontai 1916
Source: International Socialist Review, Kerr, January 1916;
Transcribed: for marxists.org, March 2002;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton 2006.
SINCE the Zimmerwald Conference of the international-spirited socialists has taken place, the patriotic-minded socialists try to make out that the revolutionary internationalist wants nothing else than to annihilate the work of the socialists for these 50 years, wants to split the working class movement.
That the officials of the parties of the belligerent countries, after having proclaimed the "civil peace" with their class governments and endorsed the war, disapprove the aims of the Zimmerwald Conference is quite apprehensible and logical. But it appears that the poison of nationalism and opportunism has corrupted even the officials of the neutral countries. The executives of the socialist parties in Denmark, Switzerland and Holland not only disapprove the Zimmerwald Conference, but point out that their party never "dreamt" of sending official delegates to a conference that believes in the necessity of a strong class conscious international, that rejects the "civil peace" policy and condemns the alliance with the capitalist government, pursuing an imperialistic war.
By disavowing the Zimmerwald Conference and its purpose, the officials of the European parties are disavowing the very principles of the Socialist movement of scientific Marxism, they are disavowing the foundation on which both Internationals were built up. International solidarity and revolutionary class struggle.
The Socialists gathered at Zimmerwald had no intention "to split" or harm the movement. Their purpose was, and is, quite an opposite one: by working for peace, by fighting war, by calling the proletarians of all countries to unite on the old battlefield of the class struggle they want to revive the International, to call into life the greatest and indomitable force, international class solidarity.
The social patriots, the officials of the different parties, the opportunists who cry against the revolutionary internationalists and assert that they are harming the movement by bringing into it disharmony and ununity, seem to forget that "the split" of the Second International is a fact, a hard fact that has to be acknowledged.
This split was caused by the war, but the line of division has been drawn not by the rebellious internationalist, but by well experienced official governmental diplomats. On one side we have the combined patriotic Socialists that endorsed the allies, on the other, those of the central powers. Each of them are assuring the working class. Scheideman and David in Germany, Plechanoff and Alexinsky in Russia, Guedes and Vandervelde in Belgium and France, that the victory of their own imperialist government will end autocracy militarism, navalism, will establish freedom and democracy for Europe, will help the victory of socialism! The path of class struggle is foresaken the "civil peace," this logical result of the opportunistic tendencies in the European movement of the last ten or fifteen years, is declared as the highest wisdom of socialist tactics. Just now, the officials of the parties in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium and the social patriots in the other countries accuse one another for the tactic of endorsing their own governments, but one can easily imagine that when this war is over, the social patriots of the belligerent countries will forgive one another, that Vandervelde will try and rehabilitate Scheideman, that Plechanoff will give his forgiveness to the German social patriots and that the Germans will try and forget the sins of the "treacherous" English....Did they not all commit the same crime? Have they not altogether betrayed their class and proved unfaithful to the principles of internationalism?
This general amnesty would help the officials of the parties to call into life the Old International based on nationalism and opportunism. And as soon as a new imperialistic war would start, the old history, the split, the break-down of the international working class movement would begin anew.
...Is that what the working class desires? Is that the lesson which the suffering and the tortures of this terrifying war have taught the Socialists?....
The war has done a great deal of mischief, but this war can mean a step forward in the working class movement if the right lesson is taken out of contemporary events. This war has put clearly and plainly before the working class of the world the following question: What have the proletarians to choose upon an outbreak of an imperialistic war (and at this stage of capitalistic development, there can't be any other war!) – the defense of the capitalistic-imperialistic fatherland or the defense of their own class interests and of the international solidarity of the working class of the world?
The comrades who assembled in Zimmerwald thought it necessary to leave no misunderstanding on this point. The working class movement can achieve its final purpose – the conquest of the means of production and the establishment of the working class dictatorship – only by a practically international class struggle. Nationalism and internationalism are principles that are opposed to one another. You can't be a "good Monarchist" and at the same time a good Republican, just as you can't be an internationalist and a nationalist at the same time. The proletarians have to make the choice.
But this war has taught us that the nationalistic policy, endorsed by the social patriots, is a failure. A new line has to be pointed out, to be drawn.
The Zimmerwald conference took the first step to draw this line; it was the first attempt to rebuild the international on the sound basis of anti-militarism (no voting for war credits) internationalism (instead of a formal representation of the national party bodies in the International Socialist Bureau) and revolutionary mass-action (instead of parlimentarism "pure and simple").
The comrades who stand with the Zimmerwald conference, don't work for a split of the Socialist movement, but they want to prepare the basis for a class conscious international that will be strong enough to fight the imperialistic policy of their own capitalistic states and that will take up here and now the task of "preparedness" for the final revolutionary battle.
The internationalists don't want to break up the working class organizations, they simply decide to spend all their force and energy to win the masses for the principles of the Third International. They hope that when the next International Congress takes place the working class will be strong and enlightened enough to put the question to the Socialist patriotic officials of all countries; what have you done with our confidence? Can you bear the responsibility of your treacherous acts?
The internationalists hope that in the new international there will be no place for opportunists and patriots, who in the most decisive moment desert the class movement and defend the interests of their national capitalists.
Now, when the question of endorsing the Zimmerwald conference is discussed in the locals of the American party it is for the American proletarians to decide; where they have to stand. Will they cling to the nationalists and opportunistic tendencies of the Second International or will they help, rebuild the working class movement on the sound basis of rebellious spirit and international class solidarity?
The American comrades must remember: the international Socialists are not working for a split, they are working to get the whole movement in the lines of class conscious revolutionary activity, to get the Third International cleared from all elements that advocate the necessity of military preparedness and believe in nationalism, and as a result of it in "civil peace." Then, but only then, call the working class of the world rebuke the imperialistic policy of the capitalistic class and achieve the final purpose of the movement, the social revolution.