V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skilfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of “ultra-imperialism” advanced by Kautsky. Here is the clearest, most precise and most recent exposition of this theory in the words of the author himself:

The subsiding of the Protectionist movement in Britain, the lowering of tariffs in America; the trend towards disarmament; the rapid decline in the export of capital from France and Germany in the years immediately preceding the war; finally, the growing international interweaving between the various cliques of finance capital—all this has caused me to consider whether the present imperialist policy cannot be supplanted by a new, ultra-imperialist policy, which will introduce the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capital. Such a new phase of capitalism is at any rate conceivable. Can it be achieved? Sufficient premises are still lacking to enable us to answer this question...” (Die Neue Zeit No. 5, April 30, 1915, p. 144).

The course and the outcome of the present war may prove decisive in this respect. It may entirely crush the weak beginnings of ultra-imperialism by fanning to the highest degree national hatred also among the finance capltalists, by intensifying the armaments race, and by making a second world war inevitable. Under such conditions, the thing I foresaw and formulated in my pamphlet, The Road to Power, would come true in horrifying dimensions; class antagonisms would become sharper and sharper and with it would come the moral decay   [literally: “going out of business, Abwirtschaftung”, bankruptcy] of capitalism... . [It must be noted that by this pretentious word Kautsky means simply the “hatred” which the “strata intermediary between the proletariat and finance capital”, namely, “the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeois, even small capitalists”, feel towards capitalism.] But the war may end otherwise. It may lead to the strengthening of the weak beginnings of ultra-imperialism... . Its lessons [note this!] may hasten developments for which we would have to wait a long time under peace conditions. If it does lead to this, to an agreement between nations, disarmament and a lasting peace, then the worst of the causes that led to the growing moral decay of capitalism before the war may disappear.” The new phase will, of course, bring the proletariat “new misfortunes”, “perhaps even worse”, but “for a time”, “ultra-imperialism” “could create an era of new hopes and expectations within the framework of capitalism” (p. 145).

How is a justification of social-chauvinism deduced from this “theory”?

In a way rather strange for a “theoretician”, namely as follows:

The Left-wing Social-Democrats in Germany say that imperialism and the wars it engenders are not accidental, but an inevitable product of capitalism, which has brought about the domination of finance capital. It is therefore necessary to go over to the revolutionary mass struggle, as the period of comparatively peaceful development has ended. The “Right”-wing Social-Democrats brazenly declare: since imperialism is “necessary”, we too must be imperialists. Kautsky, in the role of the “Centre”, tries to reconcile these two views.

The extreme Lefts,” he writes in his pamphlet, The National State, the Imperialist State and the League of States (Nuremberg, 1915), wish to contrapose—socialism to inevitable imperialism, i. e., not only the propaganda for socialism that we have been carrying on for half a century in contraposition to all forms of capitalist domination, but the immediate achievement of socialism. This seems very radical, but it can only serve to drive into the camp of imperialism anyone who does not believe in the immediate practical achievement of socialism” (p. 17, italics ours).

When he speaks of the immediate achievement of socialism, Kautsky is resorting to a subterfuge, for he takes advantage of the fact that in Germany, especially under the military censorship, revolutionary action cannot be spoken of. Kautsky is well aware that the Left wing is demanding of the Party immediate propaganda in favour of and preparation   for, revolutionary action, not the “immediate practical achievement of socialism”.

From the necessity of imperialism the Left wing deduces the necessity of revolutionary action. The “theory of ultra-imperialism”, however, serves Kautsky as a means to justify the opportunists, to present the situation in such a light as to create the impression that they have not gone over to the bourgeoisie but simply “do not believe” that socialism can arrive immediately, and expect that a new “era” of disarmament and lasting peace “may be” ushered in. This “theory” boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalisms as to justlfy the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary, i.e., proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era, this despite the solemn declarations of the Basle resolution!

At the same time Kautsky does not say that this new phase follows, and necessarily so, from certain definite circumstances and conditions. On the contrary, he states quite outspokenly that he cannot yet even decide whether or not this new phase is “achievable”. Indeed, consider the “trends” towards the new era, which have been indicated by Kautsky. Astonishingly enough, the author has included among the economic facts “the trend towards disarmament"! This means that, behind innocent philistine talk and pipe-dreaming, Kautsky is trying to hide from indisputable facts that do not at all fit in with the theory of the mitigation of contradictions. Kautsky’s “ultra-imperialism"—this term, incidentally does not at all express what the author wants to say—implies a tremendous mitigation of the contradictions of capitalism. We are told that Protectionism is subsiding in Britain and America. But where is there the least trend towards a new era? Extreme Protectionism is now subsiding in America, but Protectionism remains, just as the privileges, the preferential tariffs favouring Britain, have remained in that country’s colonies. Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both these facts (and   factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed, i.e., concerns of a magnitude permitting domination in an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over from peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence. It is ridiculous to think that the subsiding of Protectionism in two countries can change anything in this respect.

Let us further examine the fall in capital exports from two countries in the course of a few years. In 1912 these two countries, France and Germany, each had about 35,000 million marks (about 17,000 million rubles) of foreign investments, this according to Harms’s statistics, while Britain alone had twice that sum.[1] The increase in exports of capital has never proceeded evenly under capitalism, nor could that have been so. Kautsky dares not even suggest that the accumulation of capital has decreased, or that the capacity of the home market has undergone any important change, say through a big improvement in the conditions of the masses. In these circumstances, the fall in capital exports from two countries over several years cannot imply the advent of a new era.

The growing international interweaving between the cliques of finance capital” is the only really general and indubitable tendency, not during the last few years and in two countries, but throughout the whole capitalist world. But   why should this trend engender a striving towards disarmament, not armaments, as hitherto? Take any one of the world-famous cannon (and arms) manufacturers, Armstrong, for instance. The British Economist (May 1, 1915) published figures showing that this firm’s profits rose from £606,000 (about 6,000,000 rubles) in 1905/6 to £856,000 in 1913, and to £940,000 (9,000,000 rubles) in 1914. Here, the intertwining of finance capital is most pronounced, and is on the increase, German capitalists have “holdings” in British firms; British flrms build submarines for Austria, and so on. Interlinked on a world-wide scale, capital is thriving on armaments and wars. To think that the fact of capital in the individual states combining and interlinking on an international scale must of necessity produce an economic trend towards disarmament means, in effect, allowing well-meaning philistine expectations of an easing of class contradictions take the place of the actual intensification of those contradictions.


[1] See Bernhard Harms, Probleme der Weltwirtschaft, Jena, 1912; George Paish, “Great Britain’s Capital Investments in the Colonies, etc.” in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. LXXIV, 1910/11, p. 167. Lloyd George, in a speech early in 1915, estimated British capital invested abroad at £4,000,000,000, i. e., about 80,000,000,000 marks. —Lenin

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