V. I.   Lenin

The Voice of an Honest French Socialist

Published: Kommunist No. 1–2, 1915. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in the journal Kommunist.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 349-356.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2003 (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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In French-speaking Switzerland, where Francophile chauvinism is raging with only a little less intensity than in France, the voice of an honest socialist has been heard. In our despicable times this is quite an event. We must pay all the more attention to this voice because in this instance we have here to do with a socialist of typically French (or rather Romance, because the Italians, for instance, are the same) temperament and frame of mind.

We are referring to a little pamphlet by Paul Golay, the editor of a minor socialist paper published in Lausanne. It was in that city that on March 11, 1915, the author delivered a lecture on the subject: “The Socialism That Is Dying and the Socialism That Must Be Reborn”, the contents of which he later published separately.[1]

On August 1, 1914, war broke out. During the weeks preceding this now famous date, and after it, millions of people were waiting.” That is how the author begins. Millions of people were waiting, he says, to see whether the resolutions and the declarations of the leaders of socialism would not lead “to a mighty uprising, whose whirlwind would sweep away the criminal governments”. However, the expectations of millions were thwarted. “We attempted,” says Golay, “in a comradely fashion” to exonerate the socialists by referring to the “lightning suddenness of the war”, and to the lack of information, but these excuses did not satisfy us. “We felt ill at ease, as if our conscience were steeped in the filthy waters of equivocation and lies.” From   this the reader will have concluded that Golay is sincere, a quality almost extraordinary in our times.

Golay recalls the “revolutionary traditions” of the proletariat. Perfectly aware of the fact that “for each situation fitting action is required”, he reminds us that “for exceptional situations exceptional measures are necessary. Aux grands maux les grands remèdes”.[2] He recalls “congress decisions” “addressed directly to the masses and urging them to start revolutionary and insurrectionary action”. There come excerpts from the Stuttgart and Basle resolutions. The author emphasises that “these various resolutions do not contain any argument as to a defensive or offensive war; consequently they do not propose any special nationalist tactics to supersede the generally accepted fundamental principles”.

After reading this, the reader sees that Golay is not only a sincere socialist, but also an honest, convinced socialist, a quality quite exceptional among leaders of the Second International!

The proletariat was congratulated by military commanders, and the bourgeois press warmly praised the resurrection of what it called ‘the soul of the nation’. This resurrection has cost us three million corpses.

And yet never has a workers’ organisation had such a large number of dues-paying members, never has there been such an abundance of parliamentarians, such a splendidly organised press. And never has there been a more hideous cause against which one should have risen up.

In the circumstances so tragic, when the lives of millions are at stake, all revolutionary actions are not only permissible, but legitimate. They are more than legitimate—they are sacred. The imperative duty of the proletariat demanded an attempt to achieve the impossible so as to save our generation from events which are turning Europe into a shambles.

There have been no energetic steps, no attempts at a revolt, nothing leading to an uprising. . . .

Our opponents cry out about the collapse of socialism. They are too hasty. Still, who will dare assert that they are wrong in all respects? What is dying at this hour is not socialism in general, but a brand of socialism, a saccharine socialism without the spirit of idealism and without passion, with the manners of a governmental office-holder, and with the paunch of a respectable paterfamilias ; a socialism without audacity or frenzy, a devotee of statistics, up to its neck in amicable agreements with capitalism; a socialism preoccupied only with   reforms, a socialism that has sold its birthright for a mess of pottage; a socialism that controls people’s impatience in order to aid the bourgeoisie—a sort of automatic brake on audacious proletarian action.

This socialism, which threatens to contaminate the entire International, is in certain measure responsible for the impotence we are reproached with.”

Elsewhere in the pamphlet Golay is outspoken about “reformist socialism” and “opportunism” as a distortion of socialism.

In referring to that distortion, recognising the “general responsibility” of the proletariat of all the belligerent countries, and emphasising that “this responsibility falls on the heads of the leaders whom the masses trusted and from whom they expected a slogan”, Golay correctly takes as an example German socialism, which was “the best organised, best formed, the most indoctrinated”, to show “its numerical strength and its revolutionary feebleness”.

Inspired with revolutionary fervour, German Social-Democracy could have confronted militarist undertakings with a resistance sufficiently definite and stubborn to make the proletariat of the other countries of central Europe follow it on this, the only road to salvation. . . .

German socialism enjoyed great influence in the International. It could have done more than all other parties. The greatest effort was expected of it. But numbers are nothing if individual energy is paralysed by too rigorous discipline and if the ‘leaders’ utilise . . . their influence to achieve the least effort. [Much as the second part of the sentence is correct, the first is wrong: discipline is a splendid and necessary thing, for instance, the discipline of a party that expels opportunists and opponents of revolutionary action.] The German proletariat, owing to its responsible leaders, obeyed the call of the military camarilla . . . the other sections of the International took fright and acted likewise; in France, two socialists found it necessary to join a bourgeois government! Thus, several months after the solemn declaration at a congress that socialists considered it a crime to shoot at each other, millions of workers were called to the colours and began to commit that crime with a persistency and a zeal which won them repeated tribute from the capitalist bourgeoisie and governments.”

Golay, however, does not confine himself to mercilessly branding “the socialism that is dying”. He also manifests a full understanding of the cause of that dying, and the kind of socialism that should supersede the dying one. “The working masses in every country,” he writes, “submit   in some measure to the influence of ideas current in bourgeois circles.” “When, under the name of revisionism, Bernstein formulated a kind of democratic reformism,” he writes, “Kautsky shattered him with the aid of relevant facts.” “But when appearances had been preserved, the party nevertheless continued its Realpolitik. The Social-Democratic Party became what it is today. An excellent organisation. A powerful body, from which the soul has gone.” Not only German Social-Democracy, but all sections of the International reveal the same tendencies. “The growing number of officials” leads to certain consequences; attention is focussed only on the regular payment of membership dues; strikes are looked upon as “manifestations aiming at securing better conditions of agreement” with the capitalists. It becomes customary to link the interests of the workers with those of the capitalists; “to subordinate the fate of the workers to that of capitalism itself”, “to wish an intensive development of one’s ‘own’ ‘national’ industry to the detriment of foreign industry”.

In one of his articles, R. Schmiedt, a Reichstag deputy, says that regulation of working conditions by the trade unions is also advantageous to the capitalists, since it “introduces order and stability in economic life” and since it “makes the capitalists’ calculations easier, and counteracts unfair competition”.

In quoting these words, Golay exclaims:

It appears that the trade union movement must consider it an honour to make the capitalist profits more stable! It is apparently the aim of socialism to demand, within the framework of capitalist society, the maximum of advantages compatible with the existence of the capitalist system itself. In that case, we have here a renunciation of all principles. The proletariat strives, not to consolidate the capitalist regime, not to obtain minimal conditions for hired labour, but to eliminate the system of private property and to destroy the system of hired labour....

The secretaries of large organisations become important personages. In the political movement, deputies, men of letters, scientists, lawyers, all those who, together with their science, bring with themselves certain personal ambitions, wield an influence which is at times dangerous.

The powerful organisation of the trade unions and their substantial treasuries have developed a corporative spirit among their members. One of the negative aspects of the trade union movement, which is reformist in essence, is that the condition of various categories of   wage workers is improved by placing one above the other. This destroys their fundamental unity and creates among the most favoured an apprehension which compels them sometimes to fear a ‘movement’ that might undermine their condition, their treasury and their balance sheet. Thus a certain division between the various categories of the proletariat comes into existence, categories artificially created by the trade union movement itself.”

This, of course, is no argument against strong organisations, says the author, obviously to counter arguments from a certain kind of “critic”. This, he says, only proves that organisations must have a “soul”, must have “enthusiasm”.

What are the chief characteristics that must distinguish the socialism of tomorrow? It will be international, intransigent, and rebellious.”

Intransigence is a force,” Golay says with good reason, inviting the reader to cast a glance at the “history of doctrines”. “When did they exercise an influence? When they were tamed by the authorities, or when they remained intransigent? When did Christianity lose its value? Was it not on the day Constantine promised it revenues and offered it, not persecution and executions but the gold braided vestment of Court servants?...

A French philosopher has said: ‘Dead ideas are those that appear in elegant garments, with no asperity or daring. They are dead because they are put into general circulation and become part of the ordinary intellectual baggage of the great army of philistines. Strong ideas are those that shock and scandalise, evoke indignation, anger, and animosity in some, and enthusiasm in others.’” The author finds it necessary to call this truth to the minds of present-day socialists, among whom he very often finds an absence of any kind of “ardent convictions”: “They believe in nothing,” he says, “neither in reforms that are belated, nor in a revolution that has not yet arrived.”

Intransigence, a readiness for rebellion, the author says, “lead, not to dreaminess but to action. A socialist will neglect no form of action. He will find new ones according to the demands and the circumstances of the moment. . . . He demands immediate reforms; he gets them, not by bickering with the opponent, but he takes them by force, as a concession by a bourgeoisie intimidated by the enthusiasm and audacity of the masses.”

After the most bare-faced vulgarising of Marxism and degrading of socialism by Plekhanov, Kautsky, and Co., Golay’s pamphlet is really refreshing. However, the two following shortcomings must be noted.

First, Golay, in common with most socialists in the Romance countries, not excluding the present-day Guesdists, pays insufficient attention to “doctrine”, i.e., to the theory of socialism. He has a certain prejudice against Marxism, which can be explained, though not justified, by the present prevalence of the most vicious caricature of Marxism in the writings of Kautsky, in Die Neue Zeit, and among the Germans in general. A man like Golay, who has recognised the necessity of the death of reformist socialism and the revival of a revolutionary, “rebellious” socialism, i.e., one who understands the necessity of an uprising, who advocates it, and is capable of seriously preparing himself and others for it, is in deed a thousand times closer to Marxism than those gentlemen who know the “tests” by heart but are now busy (for instance, in Die Neue Zeit) justifying social-chauvinism of every kind, including that which says that one must at present “make peace” with the chauvinist Vorstand and “forget the past”.

Much as Golay’s disdain for Marxism is explainable and much as he can be cleared of the blame, which can be placed on the moribund or dead trend of the French Marxists (Guesdists), the blame is still there. The world’s greatest movement for liberation of the oppressed class, the most revolutionary class in history, is impossible without a revolutionary theory. That theory cannot be thought up. It grows out of the sum total of the revolutionary experience and the revolutionary thinking of all countries in the world. Such a theory has developed since the second half of the nineteenth century. It is known as Marxism. One cannot be a socialist, a revolutionary Social-Democrat, without participating, in the measure of one’s powers, in developing and applying that theory, and without waging a ruthless struggle today against the mutilation of this theory by Plekhanov, Kautsky, and Co.

Inattention to theory has led Golay to make a number of erroneous or hasty attacks against, for instance, centralism or discipline in general, or against “historical materialism”,   which, the author alleges, is not sufficiently “idealistic”, etc. Hence also a remarkable lack of completeness in the question of slogans. For instance, the demand that socialism should become “rebellious” is full of profound content and is the sole correct thought, without which all talk about internationalism, the revolutionary spirit, and Marxism is sheer stupidity, and, as often as not, hypocrisy. However, this idea, that of civil war, should have been developed, and made the pivot of tactics, whereas Golay confines himself to stating it. This is a lot for our days, but it is insufficient from the standpoint of the demands of the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle. For instance, Golay’s treatment of the problem of revolution as a reply to war is, if one may put it so, far too narrow. He fails to consider the fact that, though a revolutionary reply to the war has not been given, yet, the war itself has begun to teach, and is teaching, the masses the lesson of revolution, by creating a revolutionary situation and by expanding and deepening it.

Golay’s second shortcoming is best illustrated by the following argument in his pamphlet:

We blame nobody. To be reborn, the International needs a fraternal spirit to animate the various sections; but it is permissible to affirm that, in the sight of the great task placed before it by the capitalist bourgeoisie in July and August 1914, reformist, centralist[?] and hierarchical socialism cut a poor figure.”

We blame nobody. . . .” This is where you are mistaken, Comrade Golay! You yourself have admitted that “the socialism that is dying” is tied up to bourgeois ideas (which means that it is nurtured and supported by the bourgeoisie), to a certain ideological current in socialism (“reformism”), to the interests and the specific position of certain strata (parliamentarians, officials, intellectuals, some of the better-off sections or groups of workers), etc. From this follows an inevitable conclusion, which you fail to draw. Individuals “die” what is called a natural death; ideological and political trends, however, cannot die in that way. Just as the bourgeoisie will not die until it is overthrown, a trend nurtured and supported by the bourgeoisie, and expressing the interests of a small group of intellectuals and members of the labour aristocracy that have joined hands   with the bourgeoisie, will not die unless it is “killed”, i.e., overthrown, deprived of all influence on the socialist proletariat. This trend is strong in its links with the bourgeoisie. Because of the objective conditions of the “peaceful” period of 1871-1914, it has become a kind of commanding, parasitic stratum in the working-class movement.

In such conditions, it is our duty, not only to “blame”, but to ring the tocsin, ruthlessly unmask, overthrow, and oust this parasitic stratum from their posts, and destroy their “unity” with the working-class movement, because such “unity” means, in practice, unity of the proletariat with the national bourgeoisie and a split in the international proletariat, the unity of lackeys and a split among the revolutionaries.

Intransigence is a force,” Golay says with justice; he demands that “the socialism that must be reborn” should be intransigent. But is it not all the same to the bourgeoisie whether the proletariat practises reconciliation with it directly, or indirectly through bourgeois adherents, defenders, and agents within the working-class movement, i.e., through the opportunists? The latter is even more advantageous to the bourgeoisie, because it secures for it a stronger influence over the workers.

Golay is a thousand times right when he says that there is a socialism that is dying and a socialism that must be reborn; this death and this rebirth, however, comprise a ruthless struggle against the trend of opportunism—not merely an ideological struggle, but the removal of that hideous excrescence from the body of the working-class parties, the expulsion from those organisations of certain representatives of this tactic, which is alien to the proletariat, a definite break with them. They will die neither physically nor politically, but the workers will break with them, will throw them into the cesspool of the servitors of the bourgeoisie. The example of their corruption will educate a new generation, or, more correctly, new proletarian armies capable of an uprising.


[1] Paul Golay, Le socialisme qui meurt et le socialisme qui doit renaître, Lausanne, 1915, 22 pages, 15 centimes. En vente à l’Administration du “Grutleen”, Maison du Peuple, Lausanne.—Ed.

[2] Great evils call for strong remedies.—Ed.

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