V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



But how could it have happened that the most prominent representatives and leaders of the Second International have betrayed socialism? We shall deal with this question in detail later, after we have examined the attempts being made to give this treachery “theoretical” justification. We shall try to characterise the principal theories of social-chauvinism, of which Plekhanov (who in the main reiterates the arguments of the Anglo-French chauvinists, Hyndman and his new adherents) and Kautsky (who advances much more “subtle” arguments) with their semblance of far greater theoretical profundity may be regarded as representatives.

Perhaps the most primitive of these is the “who-started it?” theory, which may be worded as follows: we have been attacked and are defending ourselves; the interests of the proletariat demand that the violators of the peace in Europe should be properly dealt with. This is merely a rehash of the declarations made by all governments and of the outcries of the bourgeois and the gutter press all over the world. Plekhanov embellishes even this threadbare piece of vulgarity with his inevitable Jesuitical reference to “dialectics": to be able to assess the concrete situation, he says, we must first of all find out who started it and punish him; all other problems will have to wait until another situation arises. (See Plekhanov’s pamphlet, The War, Paris, 1914, and Axelrod’s   repetition of its arguments, in (Golos Nos. 86 and 87.) Plekhanov has set a new record in the noble sport of substituting sophistry for dialectics. The sophist grabs at one of many “arguments"; it was Hegel who long ago very properly observed that “arguments” can be found to prove any thing in the world. Dialectics calls for a many-sided investigation into a given social phenomenon in its development, and for the external and the seeming to be reduced to the fundamental motive forces, to the development of the productive forces and to the class struggle. Plekhanov has plucked out a quotation from the German Social-Democratic press: the Germans themselves, before the war, admitted that Austria and Germany had “started it”, he says, and there you are. He does not mention the fact that the Russian socialists repeatedly exposed the tsarist plans of conquest of Galicia, Armenia, etc. He does not make the slightest attempt to study the economic and diplomatic history of at least the past three decades, which history proves conclusively that the conquest of colonies, the looting of foreign countries, the ousting and ruining of the more successful rivals have been the backbone of the politics of both groups of the now belligerent powers.[1]  

With reference to wars, the main thesis of dialectics, which has been so shamelessly distorted by Plekhanov to please the bourgeoisie, is that “war is simply the continuation of politics by other [i.e., violent] means”. Such is the formula of Clausewitz,[2] one of the greatest writers on the history of war, whose thinking was stimulated by Hegel. And it was always the standpoint of Marx and Engels, who regarded any war as the continuation of the politics of the powers concerned—and the various classes within these countries—in a definite period.

Plekhanov’s crude chauvinism is based on exactly the same theoretical stand as the more subtle and saccharo-conciliatory chauvinism of Kautsky, who uses the following arguments when he gives his blessing to the desertion of tlle socialists of all countries tn the side of their “own” capitalists:

It is the right and duty of everyone to defend his fatherland; true internationalism consists in this right being recognised for the socialists of all nations, including those who are at war with my nation... . (See Die Neue Zeit, October 2, 1914, and other works by the same author.)

This matchless reasoning is such an unutterable travesty of socialism that the best answer to it would be to strike a medal with the portraits of Wilhelm II and Nicholas II on one side and of Plekhanov and Kautsky on the other. True internationalism, we are told, means that we must justify German workers firing at French workers, and French workers firing at German workers, in the name of “defence of the fatherland”!!

However, closer examination of the theoretical premises in Kautsky’s reasoning will reveal the selfsame idea that Clausewitz ridiculed about eighty years ago, viz., that when war breaks out, all historically created political relations between nations and classes cease and that a totally new situation arises! There are “simply” those that attack and those that are defending themselves, “simply” the warding off of the “enemies of the fatherland"! The opyression of a number of nations which comprise over half the population of the globe, by the dominant imperialist nations; the rivalry between the bourgeoisie of these countries for a share of the loot; the desire of the capitalists to split and suppress the working-class movement—all these have suddenly disappeared from the pen of Plekhanov and Kautsky, although they themselves were describing these very “politics” for decades before the war.

In this connection, false references to Marx and Engels are the crowning argument of these two chieftains of social chauvinism; Plekhanov recalls Prussia’s national war of 1813 and Germany’s national war of 1870, while Kautsky argues, with a most learned air, that Marx examined the question of whose success (i.e., the success of which bourgeoisie) was more desirable in the wars of 1854-55, 1859 and 1870-71, and that the Marxists did likewise in the wars of 1876-77 and 1897. In all times the sophists have been in the habit of citing instances that refer to situations that are dissimilar in principle. The wars of the past, to which they make references, were a “continuation of the politics” of the bourgeoisie’s national movements of many years’ standing, movements against an alien yoke and against absolutism (Turkish or Russian). At that time the only question was: the success of which bourgeoisie was to be preferred; for wars of this type, the Marxists could rouse the peoples in advance,   fostering national hatred, as Marx did in 1848 and later, when he called for a war against Russia, and as Engels in 1859 fostered German national hatred of their oppressors—Napoleon III and Russian tsarism.[3]

Comparing the “continuation of the politics” of combating feudalism and absolutism—the politics of the bourgeoisie in its struggle for liberty—with the “continuation of the politics” of a decrepit, i.e., imperialist, bourgeoisie, i.e., of a bourgeoisie which has plundered the entire world, a reactionary bourgeoisie which, in alliance with feudal landlords, attempts to crush the proletariat, means comparing chalk and cheese. It is like comparing the “representatives of the bourgeoisie”, Robespierre, Garibaldi and Zhelyabov, with such “representatives of the bourgeoisie” as Millerand, Salandra and Guchkov. One cannot be a Marxist without feeling the deepest respect for the great bourgeois revolutionaries who had an historic right to speak for their respective bourgeois “fatherlands”, and, in the struggle against feudalism, led tens of millions of people in the new nations towards a civilised life. Neither can one be a Marxist without feeling contempt for the sophistry of Plekhanov and Kautsky, who speak of the “defence of the fatherland” with regard to the throttling of Belgium by the German imperialists, or with regard to the pact between the imperialists of Britain, France, Russia and Italy on the plundering of Austria and Turkey.

There is another “Marxist” theory of social-chauvinism, which runs as follows: socialism is based on the rapid development of capitalism; the development of capitalism in my   country, and consequently the advent of socialism there will be speeded up by her victory; my country’s defeat will retard her economic development and consequently the advent of socialism. In Russia this Struvist theory has been developed by Plekhanov, and among the Germans by Lensch and others. Kautsky argues against this crude theory—against Lensch, who defends it overtly, and against Gunow, who de fends it covertly; his sole purpose, however, is to reconcile the social-chauvinists of all countries on the basis of a more subtle and more Jesuitical chauvinist theory.

We need not dwell on this crude theory. Struve’s Critical Notesappeared in 1894, and during the past twenty years Russian Social-Democrats have become thoroughly familiar with this habit of the enlightened Russian bourgeois of advancing their ideas and advocating their desires under the cloak of a “Marxism” purged of revolutionary content. Struvism is not merely a Russian, but, as recent events clearly prove, an international striving on the part of the bourgeois theoreticians to kill Marxism with “kindness”, to crush it in their embraces, kill it with a feigned acceptance of “all” the “truly scientific” aspects and elements of Marxism except its “agitational”, “demagogic”, “Blanquist-utopian” aspect. In other words, they take from Marxism all that is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie, including the struggle for reforms, the class struggle (without the proletarian dictatorship), the “general” recognition of “socialist ideals” and the substitution of a “new order” for capitalism; they cast aside “only” the living soul of Marxism, “only” its revolutionary content.

Marxism is the theory of the proletarian movement for emancipation. It is clear, therefore, that the class-conscious workers must pay the utmost attention to any substitution of Struvism for Marxism. The motive forces in this process are varied and manifold. We shall indicate only the three main forces: (1) the development of science is providing more and more material that proves that Marx was right. This makes it necessary to fight against him hypocritically—not to oppose the principles of Marxism openly, but to pretend to accept Marxism, while emasculating it by sophistry and turning it into a holy “icon” that is harmless to the bourgeoisie. (2) The development of opportunism among the Social-Democratic parties fosters such a re-fashioning of   Marxism, and adjusts it for a justification of all kinds of concessions to opportunism. (3) The epoch of imperialism is one in which the world is divided among the “great” privileged nations that oppress all other nations. Morsels of the loot obtained as a result of these privileges and this oppression undoubtedly fall to the share of certain sections of the petty bourgeoisie and to the working-class aristocracy and bureaucracy. These strata, which form an insignificant minority of the proletariat and of the toiling masses, gravitate towards “Struvism”, because it provides them with a justification of their alliance with their “own” national bourgeoisie, against the oppressed masses of all nations. We shall have occasion to deal with this later, in connection with the causes of the collapse of the International.


[1] Very instructive is The War of Steel and Gold (London 1914 a book dated March 1914!) by the British pacifist Brailsford, who is not averse to posing as a socialist. The author clearly realises that national problems are now in the background, and have been solved (p. 35), that this is not the issue of the day, that “the typical question of modern diplomacy” (p. 36) is the Baghdad railway, the contracts for rails for it, the Moroccan mines, and the like. The author correctly considers as one of the “most instructive incidents in the recent history of European diplomacy” the fact that French patriots and British imperialists fought against Caillaux’s attempts (in 1911 and 1913) to come to terms with Germany on the basis of an agreement on the division of spheres of colonial influence and the quotation of German securities on the Paris Bourse. The British and the French bourgeoisie frustrated such an agreement (pp. 38-40). The aim of imperialism is the export of capital to the weaker countries (p. 74). In Britain, the profits from such capital totalled between £90,000,000 and £100,000,000 in 1899 (Giffen), and £140,000,000 in 1909 (Paish); we would add that, in a recent speech, Lloyd George calculated it at £200,000,000, which is almost 2,000 million rubles. Unsavoury machinations and bribing of high-ranking Turks, and cushy jobs in India and Egypt for the younger sons of the British aristocracy, such are the main features (pp. 85-87). An insignificant minority gains from armaments and wars, he says, but that minority is backed by “society” and the financiers, whereas behind the adherents   of peace there is a disunited population (p. 93). A pacifist who today talks about peace and disarmament tomorrow proves to be a member of a party wholly dependent on the war contractors (p. 161). If the Triple Entente wins, it will grab Morocco and partition Persia; if the Triple Alliance wins, it will take over Tripoli, strengthen its hold on Bosnia and subordinate Turkey (p. 167). In March 1906, London and Paris provided Russia with thousands of millions, and helped tsarism crush the movement for freedom (pp. 225-28); today Britain is helping Russia to throttle Persia (p. 229). Russia instigated the Balkan War (p. 230).

There is nothing novel about this, is there? All this is common knowledge and has been reiterated a thousand times in Social-Democratic newspapers all over the world. On the eve of the war, a British bourgeois sees all this as clearly as can be. Against the background of these simple and universally known facts, what drivelling nonsense, what smug hypocrisy, what glib lies are the theories advanced by Plekhanov and Potresov concerning Germany’s guilt, or Kautsky’s theory concerning the “prospects” of disarmament and a lasting peace under capitalism! —Lenin

[2] Karl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Werke, 1. Bd., S. 28. Cf. III. Bd., S. 139–40: “All know that wars are caused only by the political relations of governments and of nations; but ordinarily one pictures the situation as if, with the beginning of the war, these relations cease and a totally new situation is created, which follows its own laws. We assert, on the contrary, that war is nothing but the continuation of political relations, with the intervention of other means.” —Lenin

[3] Mr. Gardenin in Zhizn[4] labels as “revolutionary chauvinism"—but chauvinism—Marx’s stand in 1848 for revolutionary war against the European nations which in fact had shown themselves to be counter-revolutionary, viz., “the Slavs and the Russians in particular”. This reproof of Marx reveals once again the opportunism (or—properly speaking and—the inconseguence) of this “Left” Socialist-Revolutionary. We Marxists have always stood, and still stand, for a revolutionary war against counter-revolutionary nations. For instance, if socialism is victorious in America or in Europe in 1920, and Japan and China, let us say, then move their Bismarcks against us—if only diplomatically at first—we certainly would be in favour of an offensive revolutionary war against them. It seems strange to you, Mr. Gardenin? But then you are a revolutionary of the Ropshin type! —Lenin

[4] Zhizn (Life )—a newspaper of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, published between March 1915 and January 1916, first in Paris and later in Geneva taking the place of newspaper Mysl which was closed down in 1915.

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