V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



To sum up.

The collapse of the Second International has been most strikingly expressed in the flagrant betrayal of their convictions and of the solemn Stuttgart and Basle resolutions by the majority of the official Social-Democratic parties of Europe. This collapse, however, which signifies the complete victory of opportunism, the transformation of the Social Democratic parties into national liberal-labour parties, is merely the result of the entire historical epoch of the Second International—the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. The objective conditions of this epoch—transitional from the consummation of West European bourgeois and national revolutions to the beginning of socialist revolutions—engendered and fostered   opportunism. During this period we see a split in the working class and socialist movement in some European countries, which, in the main, was cleavage along the line of opportunism (Britain, Italy, Holland, Bulgaria and Russia); in other countries, we see a long and stubborn struggle of trends along the same line (Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland). The crisis created by the great war has torn away all coverings, swept away conventions, exposed an abscess that has long come to a head, and revealed opportunism in its true role of ally of the bourgeoisie. The complete organisational severance of this element from the workers’ parties has become imperative. The epoch of imperialism cannot permit the existence, in a single party, of the revolutionary proletariat’s vanguard and the semi-petty-bourgeois aristocracy of the working class, who enjoy morsels of the privileges of their “own” nation’s “Great-Power” status. The old theory that opportunism is a “legitimate shade” in a single party that knows no “extremes” has now turned into a tremendous deception of the workers and a tremendous hindrance to the working-class movement. Undisguised opportunism, which immediately repels the working masses, is not so frightful and injurious as this theory of the golden mean, which uses Marxist catchwords to justify opportunist practice, and tries to prove, with a series of sophisms, that revolutionary action is premature, etc. Kautsky, the most outstanding spokesman of this theory, and also the leading authority in the Second International, has shown himself a consummate hypocrite and a past master in the art of prostituting Marxism. All members of the million-strong German party who are at all honest, class-conscious and revolutionary have turned away in indignation from an “authority” of this kind so ardently defended by the Südekums and the Scheidemanns.

The proletarian masses—probably about nine-tenths of whose former leaders have gone over to the bourgeoisie—have found themselves disunited and helpless amid a spate of chauvinism and under the pressure of martial law and the war censorship. But the ohjective war-created revolutionary situation, which is extending and developing, is inevitably engendering revolutionary sentiments; it is tempering and enlightening all the finest and most class-conscious proletarians.   A sudden change in the mood of the masses is not only possible, but is becoming more and more probahle, a change similar to that which was to be seen in Russia early in 1905 in connection with the “Gaponade”,[1] when, in the course of several months and sometimes of several weeks, there emerged from the backward proletarian masses an army of millions, which followed the proletariat’s revolutionary vanguard. We cannot tell whether a powerful revolutionary movement will develop immediately after this war, or during it, etc., but at all events, it is only work in this direction that deserves the name of socialist work. The slogan of a civil war is the one that summarises and directs this work, and helps unite and consolidate those who wish to aid the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against its own government and its own bourgeoisie.

In Russia, the complete severance of the revolutionary Social-Democratic proletarian elements from the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements has been prepared by the entire history of the working-class movement. Those who disregard that history, and, by declaiming against “factionalism”, make themselves incapable of understanding the real process of the formation of a proletarian party in Russia, which has developed in the course of many years of struggle against various varieties of opportunism, are rendering that movement the worst possible service. Of all the “Great” Powers engaged in the present war, Russia is the only one that recently experienced a revolution. The bourgeois content of that revolution, in which the proletariat nevertheless played a decisive part, could not but cause a split between the bourgeois and proletarian trends in the working-class movement. In the approximately twenty years (1894-1914) that Russian Social-Democracy has existed as an organisation linked with the mass working-class movement (and not only as an ideological trend, as in 1883-94), there was a struggle between the proletarian-revolutionary trends and the petty-bourgeois, opportunist trends. The Economism[2] of 1894 1902 was undoubtedly a trend of the latter kind. A number of its arguments and ideological features—the “Struvist” distortion of Marxism, references to the “masses” in order to justify opportunism, and the like—bear a striking resemblance to the present vulgarised Marxism of Kautsky,   Cunow, Plekhanov, etc. It would be a very grateful task to remind the present generation of Social-Democrats of the old Rabochaya Mysl[3] and Rabocheye Dyelo, as[4] a parallel to the Kautsky of today.

The “Menshevism” of the next period (1903-08) was the direct successor, both ideological and organisational, to Economism. During the Russian revolution, it pursued tactics that objectively meant the dependence of the proletariat upon the liberal bourgeoisie, and expressed petty-bourgeois, opportunist trends. When, in the ensuing period (1908-14), the mainstream of the Menshevik trend produced liquidationism, the class significance of that trend became so apparent that the best representatives of Menshevism were continually protesting against the policy of Nasha Zarya group. It is that very group—the on]y one which, during the past five or six years, has conducted systematic work among the masses in opposition to the revolutionary Marxist party of the working class—that has proved to be social-chauvinist in the war of 1914-15! And this in a country where absolutism still exists, the bourgeois revolution is far from consummated, and forty-three per cent of the population oppresses a majority consisting of non-Russian nations. The “European” type of development, in which certain strata of the petty bourgeoisie, especially the intelligentsia and an insignificant section of the labour aristocracy can share in the “Great-Power” privileges of their “own” nation, could not but have its Russian counterpart.

All their history has prepared the working class and the workers’ Social-Democratic Party of Russia for “internationalist” tactics, i.e., such that are truly revolutionary and consistently revolutionary.

P.S. This article had already been set when a manifesto appeared in the press, jointly issued by Kautsky, Haase and Bernstein, who, seeing that the masses are swinging to the left, are therefore now prepared to “make peace” with the Left wing—naturally, at the price of maintaining “peace” with the Südekums. Verily, Mädchen für alle!


[1] Gaponade—derived from the name of Gapon, a priest of the Orthodox Church. On the eve of the first Russian revolution he founded the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, with the aim of distracting the workers from the revolutionary struggle. In so doing he acted on instructions from the tsarist secret police. On January 9, 1905, Gapon, taking advantage of the growing unrest, provoked the workers into demonstrating before the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg for the purpose of presenting a petition to the tsar. By order of Nicholas II, troops fired at the unarmed demonstrators. This act destroyed the naïve faith of workers throughout the country in the tsar, and served as the starting-point of the first Russian revolution. The political consciousness of the proletariat was aroused and a wave of protest strikes swept Russia.

[2] On Economism, see this volume, pp. 331-32.

[3] Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought )—an Economists’ paper, published from 1897 to 1902. In his Iskra articles and his book   What Is To Be Done? Lenin criticised Rabochaya Mysl views as a Russian variety of international opportunism.

[4] Rabocheye Dyelo (The Workers’ Cause )—a journal of the Economists, organ of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad. It was published at irregular intervals in Geneva from 1899 to 1902 Lenin criticised the views voiced by the Rabocheye Dyelo group, in a number of articles published in Iskra and in his book What Is To Be Done?

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