V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International


The collapse of the International is sometimes taken to mean simply the formal aspect of the matter, namely, the interruption in international communication between tbe socialist parties of the belligerent countries, the impossibility of converting either an international conference or the International Socialist Bureau, etc. This is the point of view held by certain socialists in the small neutral countries, probahly even by the majority of the official parties in those countries, and also by the opportunists and their defenders. With a frankness that deserves profound gratitude, this position was defended in the Russian press by Mr. V. Kosovsky, in No. 8 of the Bund’s Information Bulletin, whose editors said nothing to indicate that they disagreed with the author. Let us hope that Mr. Kosovsky’s defence of nationalism, in which he went so far as to justify the German Social-Democrats who voted for war credits, will help many a worker at last to realise the bourgeois-nationalist-character of the Bund.

To the class-conscious workers, socialism is a serious conviction, not a convenient screen to conceal petty-bourgeois conciliatory and nationalist-oppositional strivings. By the collapse of the International they understand the disgraceful treachery to their convictions which was displayed by most of the official Social-Democratic parties, treachery to the most solemn declarations in their speeches at the Stuttgart and Basle international congresses, and in the resolutions of these congresses, etc. Only those can fail to see this treachery who do not wish to do so or do not find it to their advantage to see it. If we would formulate the question in a scientific fashion, i.e., from the standpoint of class relations in modern society, we will have to state that most of the Social Democratic parties, and at their head the German Party   first and foremost—the biggest and most influential party in the Second International—have taken sides with their General Staffs, their governments, and their bourgeoisie, against the proletariat. This is an event of historic importance, one that calls for a most comprehensive analysis. It has long been conceded that, for all the horror and misery they entail, wars bring at least the following more or less important benefit—they ruthlessly reveal, unmask and destroy much that is corrupt, outworn and dead in human institutions. The European war of 1914-15 is doubtlessly beginning to do some good by revealing to the advanced class of the civilised countries what a foul and festering abscess has developed within its parties, and what an unbearably putrid stench comes from some source.


Is it a fact that the principal socialist parties of Europe have forsaken all their convictions and tasks? This, of course, is something that is readily discussed neither by the traitors nor those who are fully aware—or surmise—that they will have to be friendly and tolerant towards them. However unpleasant that may be to various “authorities” in the Second International or to their fellow-thinkers among the Russian Social-Democrats, we must face the facts and call things by their right names; we must tell the workers the truth.

Do any facts exist that show how the socialist parties regarded their tasks and their tactics before the present war and in anticipation of it? They undoubtedly do. There was the resolution adopted at the Basle International Socialist Congress of 1912, which we are reprinting together with the resolution adopted at the Chemnitz Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party held in the same year,[1] as a reminder of socialism’s forgotten ideals. This resolution, which summarises the vast anti-war propagandist and agitational literature in all countries, is a most complete and precise, a most solemn and formal exposition of socialist views on war and tactics towards war. One cannot but qualify as treachery the fact that none of the authorities of yesterday’s   International and of today’s social-chauvinism—neither Hyndman and Guesde, nor Kautsky and Plekhanov—dare remind their readers of that resolution. They are either silent about it, or (like Kautsky) quote excerpts of secondary importance and evade everything that is really of significance. On the one hand, the most “Left” and arch-revolutionary resolutions, and on the other, the most shameless forgetfulness or renunciation of these resolutions—this is one of the most striking manifestations of the International’s collapse, and at the same time a most convincing proof that at present only those whose rare simplicity borders on a cunning desire to perpetuate the former hypocricy can believe that socialism can be “rectified” and “its line straightened out” by means of resolutions alone.

Only yesterday, one might say, when, before the war, Hyndman turned towards a defence of imperialism, all “respectable” socialists considered him an unbalanced crank, of whom nobody spoke otherwise than in a tone of disdain. Today the most prominent Social-Democratic leaders of all countries have sunk entirely to Hyndman’s position, differing from one another only in shades of opinion and in temperament. We are quite unable to find some more or less suitable parliamentary expression in appraising or characterising the civic courage of such persons as, for instance, the Nashe Slovo authors, who write of “Mr.” Hyndman with contempt, while speaking—or saying nothing—of “Comrade” Kautsky with deference (or obsequiousness?). Can such an attitude be reconciled with a respect for socialism, and for one’s convictions in general? If you are convinced that Hyndman’s chauvinism is false and destructive, does it not follow that you should direct your criticism and attacks against Kautsky, the more influential and more dangerous defender of such views?

In perhaps greater detail than anywhere else, Guesde’s views have recently been expressed by the Guesdist Charles Dumas, in a pamphlet entitled The Peace That We Desire. This “Chef du Cabinet de Jules Guesde”, as he styles himself on the title-page of the pamphlet, naturally “quotes” the former patriotic declarations of the socialists (David, the German social-chauvinist, does the same in his latest pamphlet on defence of the fatherland), but he fails to refer to the   Basle Manifesto! Plekhanov, who utters chauvinist banalities with an extraordinarily smug air, is likewise silent on the Manifesto. Kautsky behaves just like Plekhanov: in quoting from the Basle Manifesto, he omits all the revolutionary passages (i.e., all the vital content!), probably on the pretext of the censorship regulations... . The police and the military authorities, whose censorship regulations forbid any mention of the class struggle or revolution, have rendered timely aid to the traitors to socialism!

Perhaps the Basle Manifesto is just an empty appeal, which is devoid of any definite content, either historical or tactical, with a direct bearing on the concrete war of today?

The reverse is true. The Basle resolution has less idle declamation and more definite content than other resolutions have. The Basle resolution speaks of the very same war that has now broken out, of the imperialist conflicts that have flared up in 1914-15. The conflicts between Austria and Serbia over the Balkans, between Austria and Italy over Albania, etc., between Britain and Germany over markets and colonies in general, between Russia and Turkey, etc., over Armenia and Constantinople—all this is what the Basle resolution speaks of in anticipation of the present war. It follows from that resolution that the present war between “the Great Powers of Europe” “cannot be justified on the slightest pretext of being in the least in the interests of the people”.

And if Plekhanov and Kautsky—to take two of the most typical and authoritative socialists, who are well known to us, one of whom writes in Russian while the other is translated into Russian by the liquidators are now (with the aid of Axelrod) seeking all sorts of “popular justifications” for the war (or, rather, vulgar ones taken from the bourgeois gutter press) if, with a learned mien and with a stock of false quotations from Marx, they refer to “precedents”, to the wars of 1813 and 1870 (Plekhanov), or of 1854-71, 1876-77, 1897 (Kautsky), then, in truth, only those without a shadow of socialist conviction, without a shred of socialist conscience, can take such arguments in earnest, can fail to call them otherwise than unparalleled Jesuitism, hypocrisy and the prostitution of socialism! Let the Executive (Vorstand ) of the German Party anathematise Mehring and Rosa Luxemburg’s   new magazine (Die Internationale ) for its honest criticism of Kautsky; let Vandervelde, Plekhanov, Hyndman and Co. treat their opponents in the same manner, with the aid of the police of the Allied Powers. We shall reply by simply reprinting the Basle Manifesto, which will show that the leaders have chosen a course that can only be called treachery.

The Basle resolution does not speak of a national or a people’s war—examples of which have occurred in Europe, wars that were even typical of the period of 1789-1871—or of a revolutionary war, which Social-Democrats have never renounced, but of the present war, which is the outcome of “capitalist imperialism” and “dynastic interests”, the outcome of “the policy of conquest” pursued by both groups of belligerent powers—the Austro-German and the Anglo Franco-Russian. Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co. are flagrantly deceiving the workers by repeating the selfish lie of the bourgeoisie of all countries, which is striving with all its might to depict this imperialist and predatory war for colonies as a people’s war, a war of defence (for any side); when they seek to justify this war by citing historical examples of non-imperialist wars.

The question as to the imperialist, predatory and anti-proletarian character of the present war has long outgrown the purely theoretical stage. All the main features of imperialism have been theoretically assessed, as a struggle being waged by the senile and moribund bourgeoisie for the partition of the world and the enslavement of “small” nations; these conclusions have been repeated thousands of times in the vast socialist press in all countries; in his pamphlet The Impending War (1911! ), for example, the Frenchman Delaisi, a representative of one of our “Allied” nations, has explained in simple terms the predatory character of the present war, with reference to the French bourgeoisie as well. But that is far from all. At Basle, representatives of the proletarian parties of all countries gave unanimous and formal expression to their unshakable conviction that a war of an imperialist character was impending, and drew tactical conclusions therefrom. For this reason, among others, we must flatly reject, as sophistry, all references to an inadequate discussion on the difference between national and international tactics   see Axelrod’s latest interview in Nashe Slovo Nos. 87 and 90), etc., etc. This is sophistry, because a comprehensive scientific analysis of imperialism is one thing—that analysis is only under way and, in essence, is as infinite as science itself. The principles of socialist tactics against capitalist imperialism, which have been set forth in millions of copies of Social-Democratic newspapers and in the decision of the International, are a quite different thing. Socialist parties are not debating clubs, but organisations of the fighting proletariat; when a numher of battalions have gone over to the enemy, they must be named and branded as traitors; we must not allow ourselves to be taken in by hypocritical assertions that “not everybody understands imperialism in the same way”, or that the chauvinist Kautsky and the chauvinist Cunow can write volumes about it, or that the question has not been “adequately discussed”, etc., etc. Capitalism will never be completely and exhaustively studied in all the manifestations of its predatory nature, and in all the most minute ramifications of its historical development and national features. Scholars (and especially the pedants) will never stop arguing over-details. It would be ridiculous to give up the socialist struggle against capitalism and to desist from opposing, on such grounds, those who have betrayed that struggle. But what else are Kautsky, Cunow, Axelrod and their like inviting us to do?

Now, when war has broken out, no one has even attempted to examine the Basle resolution and prove that it is erroneous.


[1] The Chemnitz Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party, held on September 15-21, 1912, passed a resotution “On Imperialism”, which said that the imperialist states were pursuing “a policy of shameless plunder and annexations” and called upon the party “to fight imperialism with greater energy”.

During World War I leaders of the Second International treacherously violated the decisions of the international socialist congresses, in particular, those adopted in Chemnitz.

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