V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



The preceding lines had already been written when Die Neue Zeit of May 28 (No. 9) appeared with Kautsky’s concluding arguments on the “collapse of Social-Democracy” (Section 7 of his reply to Cunow). Kautsky sums up all his old sophisms, and a new one, in defence of social-chauvinism as follows:

It is simply untrue to say that the war is a purely imperialist one that at the outbreak of the war the alternative was either imperialism or socialism, that the socialist parties and the proletarian masses of Germany, France and, in many respects, also of Britain, unthinkingly and at the mere call of a handful of parliamentarians, threw themselves into the arms of imperialism, betrayed socialism and thus caused a collapse unexampled in history.”

A new sophism and a new deception of the workers: the war, if you please, is not a “purely” imperialist one!

Kautsky vacillates amazingly on the question of the character and significance of the present war; this party leader evades the precise and formal declarations of the Basle and Chemnitz congresses, as studiedly as a thief keeps away from the place where he has just committed a theft. In his pamphlet, The National State, etc., written in February 1915, Kautsky asserted that “still, in the final analysis”, the war is an “imperialist one” (p. 64). Now a fresh reservation is introduced: it is not a purely imperialist war. What else can it he?

It appears that it is also a national war! Kautsky arrives at this monstrous conclusion by means of the following “Plekhanovist” pseudo-dialectic:

The present war is not only the child of imperialism, but also of the Russian revolution.” As early as 1904, he, Kautsky, foresaw that the Russian revolution would revive Pan-Slavism in a new form, that “democratic Russia would, inevitably, greatly fan the desire of the Austrian and Turkish Slavs for national independence... . Then the Polish question would also become acute... . Austria would fall apart because, with the collapse of tsarism, the iron band which at present binds the centrifugal elements together would be destroyed” (Kautsky himself quotes this last phrase from his 1904 article). “The Russian revolution ... gave a new and powerful impetus to the national aspirations of the East, adding Asia’s problems to those of Europe. All these problems are making themselves very strongly felt in the present war and are acquiring very decisive significance for the mood of the masses of the people, including the proletarian masses, whereas among the ruling classes imperialist tendencies are predominant” (p. 273, italics ours).

This is another sample of the prostitution of Marxism! Inasmuch as a “democratic Russia” would foster a striving towards freedom in the nations of Eastern Europe (this is indisputable), the present war, which will not liberate a single nation, but, whatever the outcome, will enslave many nations, is not a “purely” imperialist war. Inasmuch as the “collapse of tsarism” would mean the disintegration of Austria,   owing to its undemocratic national structure, a temporarily strengthened, and counter-revolutionary tsarism, which is plundering Austria and is bringing still greater oppression to the nations inhabiting Austria, has given “the present war”, not a purely imperialist character but, to a certain degree, a national character. Inasmuch as “the ruling classes” are deluding the stupid petty bourgeois and browbeaten peasants with fables about the national aims of the imperialist war, a man of science, an authority on “Marxism”, and representative of the Second International, is entitled to reconcile the masses to this deception by means of a “formula” which claims that the ruling classes reveal imperialist tendencies, while the “people” and the proletarian masses reveal “national” aspirations.

Dialectic is turned into the meanest and basest sophistry!

In the present war the national element is represented only by Serbia’s war against Austria (which, by the way, was noted in the resolution of our Party’s Berne Conference).[1] It is only in Serbia and among the Serbs that we can find a national-liberation movement of long standing, embracing millions, “the masses of the people”, a movement of which the present war of Serbia against Austria is a “continuation”. If this war were an isolated one, i.e., if it were not connected with the general European war, with the selfish and predatory aims of Britain, Russia, etc., it would have been the duty of all socialists to desire the success of the Serbian bourgeoisieas this is the only correct and absolutely inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the national element in the present war. However it is this conclusion that the sophist Kautsky, who is now in the service of the Austrian bourgeoisie, clericals and militarists, has failed to draw.

Further, Marxist dialectics, as the last word in the scientific-evolutionary method, excludes any isolated examination of an object, i.e., one that is one-sided and monstrously distorted. The national element in the Serbo-Austrian war is not, and cannot be, of any serious significance in the general European war. If Germany wins, she will throttle Belgium, one more part of Poland, perhaps part of France, etc. If Russia wins, she will throttle Galicia, one more part of   Poland, Armenia, etc. If the war ends in a “draw”, the old national oppression will remain. To Serbia, i.e., to perhaps one per cent or so of the participants in the present war, the war is a “continuation of the politics” of the bourgeois-liberation movement. To the other ninety-nine per cent, the war is a continuation of the politics of imperialism, i.e., of the decrepit bourgeoisie, which is capable only of raping nations, not freeing them. The Triple Entente, which is “liberating” Serbia, is selling the interests of Serbian liberty to Italian imperialism in return for the latter’s aid in robbing Austria.

All this, which is common knowledge, has been unblushingly distorted by Kautsky to justify the opportunists. There are no “pure” phenomena, nor can there be, either in Nature or in society—that is what Marxist dialectics teaches us, for dialectics shows that the very concept of purity indicates a certain narrowness, a one-sidedness of human cognition, which cannot embrace an object in all its totality and complexity. There is no “pure” capitalism in the world, nor can there be; what we always find is admixtures either of feudalism, philistinism, or of something else. Therefore, if anyone recalls that the war is not “purely” imperialist, when we are discussing the flagrant deception of “the masses of the people” by the imperialists, who are deliberately concealing the aims of undisguised robbery with “national” phraseology, then such a person is either an infinitely stupid pedant, or a pettifogger and deceiver. The whole point is that Kautsky is supporting the deception of the people by the imperialists when he asserts that to “the masses of the people, including tho proletarian masses”, the problems of national liberation were “of decisive significance” whereas to the ruling classes the decisive factors were “imperialist tendencies” (p. 273), and when he “reinforces” this with an alleged dialectical reference to the “infinite variety of reality” (p. 274). Certainly, reality is infinitely varied. That is absolutely true! But it is equally indubitable that amidst this infinite variety there are two main and fundamental srains: the objective content of the war is a “continuation of the politics” of imperialism. i.e., the plunder of other nations by the decrepit bourgeoisie of the “Great Powers” (and their governments), whereas the prevailing “subjective”   ideology consists of “national” phraseology which is being spread to fool the masses.

Kautsky’s old sophism, repeated time and again, claiming that “at the outbreak of war” the “Lefts” regarded the situation as presenting an alternative between imperialism or socialism, has already been analysed. This is a shameless subterfuge, for Kautsky knows very well that the Lefts advanced a different alternative, viz., either that the party join in the imperialist plunder and deception, or else propagate and prepare for revolutionary action. Kautsky knows also that it is the censorship alone that prevents the Lefts in Germany from exposing the stupid fable that his servility to the Südekums makes him spread.

As for the relation between the “proletarian masses” and a “handful of parliamentarians”, Kautsky advances a most threadbare objection:

Let us disregard the Germans, so as not to plead in our own behalf who would seriously assert that men like Vaillant, Guesde, Hyndman and Plekhanov became imperialists overnight and betrayed socialism? Let us disregard the parliamentarians and the ‘leading bodies’ ... [Kautsky is obviously hinting at Die Internationale, the journai issued by Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring, in which the policy of the leading bodies, i.e., the official bodies of the German Social-Democratic Party, its Executive, the “Vorstand”, its parliamentary group, etc., is treated with deserved contempt] ... who would dare assert that an order given by a handful of parliamentarians is sufficient to make four million class-conscious German proletarians turn right-about face within twenty-four hours, in direct opposition to their former aims? If this were true, it would, of course, be evidence of a terrible collapse, not only of our Party, but also of the masses. [Kautsky’s italics.] If the masses were such a spineless flock of sheep, we might just as well allow ourselves to be buried” (p. 274).

Politically and scientically, Karl Kautsky, the great authority, gave himself a burial long ago through his conduct and his collection of pitiful evasions. Those who fail to understand or at least to feel this, are hopeless as far as socialism is concerned; it is for this very reason that the tone adopted, in Die Internationale, by Mehring, Rosa Luxemburg and their adherents, in treating Kautsky and Co. as most despicable creatures, was the only correct one in the circumstances.

Consider: the only people in a position to express their attitude to the war more or less freely (i.e., without being   immediately seized and dragged to the barracks, or the immediate risk of being shot) were a “handful of parliamentarians” (who were free to vote, with the right to do so; they were quite able to vote in opposition. Even in Russia, no one was beaten up or even arrested for this), a handful of officials, journalists, etc. And now, Kautsky nobly places on the masses the blame for the treachery and the spinelessness of that social stratum of whose links with the tactics and ideology of opportunism Kautsky himself has written scores of times over a number of years! The first and most fundamental demand of scientific research in general and of Marxist dialectic in particular is that a writer should examine the link between the present struggle of trends in the socialist movement—between the trend that is doing the talking, vociferating, and raising a hullabaloo about treachery, and the trend which sees no treachery—and the struggle that preceded it for whole decades. Kautsky, however, does not say a word about this; he does not even wish to raise the question of trends and tendencies. Till now there have been tendencies, but now there are none! Today, there are only the resonant names of “authorities”, which the servile spirits always invoke as their trump card. In this connection it is most convenient for one to refer to the other and to cover up one’s “peccadilloes” in a friendly fashion, according to the rule: you roll my log and I’ll roll yours. “How can this becalled opportunism,” Martov exclaimed at a lecture in Berne (see No. 36 of Sotsial-Demokrat ), “when Guesde, Plekhanov and Kautsky..."! “We must be more careful in accusing men like Guesde of opportunism,” Axelrod wrote (Golos Nos. 86 and 87). “I will not defend myself,” Kautsky echoed in Berlin, “but Vaillant, Guesde, Hyndman and Plekhanov..."! What a mutual admiration society!

In his writings, Kautsky has revealed such servile zeal as to fawn upon even Hyndman and to make it appear that it was only yesterday that the latter deserted to the side of imperialism. And yet the selfsame Neue Zeit and scores of Social-Democratic papers all over the world have been writing about Hyndman’s imperialism for many years. Had Kautsky gone to the trouble of thoroughly studying the political biographies of the persons he mentions, he would have recalled whether or not those biographies contained traits   and events which paved the way for their desertion to imperialism, not “overnight”, but over decades; whether Vaillant had been held captive by the Jaurèsists, and Plekhanov by the Mensheviks and liquidators; whether the Guesdist trend had been publicly giving up the ghost in that typically lifeless and insipid Guesdist magazine, Le Socialisme,[4] which was incapable of taking an independent stand on any important issue; whether Kautsky himself (we add this for the benefit of those who very properly put him alongside Hyndman and Plekhanov) had been supine in the question of Millerandism, in the early stage of the struggle against Bernsteinism, etc.

But Kautsky does not display the slightest shadow of interest in any scientific examination of these leaders’ biographies. He does not even attempt to see whether these leaders are defending themselves with their own arguments or by repeating the arguments of the opportunists and the bourgeoisie; whether the actions of these leaders have acquired serious political significance because of their own extraordinary influence, or because they have adhered to some other really “influential” trend which is supported by a military organisation, namely, the bourgeois trend. Kautsky has not even set about examining this question; his only concern is to throw dust in the eyes of the masses, dumbfound them with the sound of authoritative names, prevent them from raising a clear issue and examining it from all sides.[2]

“... an order given by a handful of parliamentarians is sufficient to make four million class-conscious proletalians turn right-about-face....”

Every word uttered here is a lie. The German Party organisation had a membership of one million, not four million. As is the case with any organisation, the united will of this mass organisation was expressed only through its united political centre, the “handful”, who betrayed socialism. It was this handful who were asked to express their opinion; it was this handful who were called upon to vote, they were in a position to vote; they were in a position to write articles, etc. The masses were not consulted. Not only were they not permitted to vote, but they were disunited and coerced “by orders”, not from a handful of parliamentarians, but from the military authorities. A military organisation existed; there was no treachery among the leaders of this organisation. It called up the “masses” one by one, confronted the individual with the ultimatum: either join the army, as your leaders advise you to, or be shot. The masses could not act in an organised fashion because their previously created organisation, an organisation embodied in a “handful” of Legiens, Kautskys and Scheidemanns, had betrayed them. It takes time to create a new organisation, as well as a determination to consign the old, rotten, and obsolete organisation to the scrap heap.

Kautsky tries to defeat his opponents, the Lefts, by ascribing to them the nonsensical idea that the “masses”, “in retaliation” to war, should make a revolution “within twenty four hours”, and institute “socialism” as opposed to imperialism, or otherwise the “masses” would be revealing “spinelessness and treachery”. But this is sheer nonsense, which the compilers of illiterate bourgeois and police booklets have hitherto used to “defeat” the revolutionaries, and Kautsky now flaunts in our faces. Kautsky’s Left opponents know perfectly well that a revolution cannot be “made”, that revolutions develop from objectively (i.e., independently of the will of parties and classes) mature crises and turns in history, that without organisation the masses lack unity of will, and that the struggle against a centralised state’s powerful terrorist military organisation is a difficult and lengthy business. Owing to the treachery of their leaders, the masses could not do anything at the crucial moment, whereas this “handful” of leaders were in an excellent position and in duty bound to vote against the war credits, take a stand against   a “class truce” and justification of the war, express themselves in favour of the defeat of their own governments, set up an international apparatus for the purpose of carrying on propaganda in favour of fraternisation in the trenches, organise the publication of illegal literature[3] on the necessity of starting revolutionary activities, etc.

Kautsky knows perfectly well that it is precisely such or rather similar actions that the German “Lefts” have in mind and that under a military censorship they cannot talk about these things directly, openly. Kautsky’s desire to defend the opportunists at all costs has led him into unparalleled anfamy: taking cover behind the military censors, he ittributes patent absurdities to the Lefts, in the confidence that the censors will protect him from exposure.


[1] See page 159 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Kautsky’s relerences to Vaillant and Guesde, Hyndman and Plckhanov are characteristic also in another connection. The out spoken imperialists of the Lensch and Haenisch variety (to say nothing of the opportunists) refer to Hyndman and Plekhanov so as to justify their own policy, and they have a right to do so. They are speaking the truth when they say it is one and the same policy. Kautsky, however, speaks with disdain of Lensch and Haenisch, radicals who have turned towards imperialism. Kautsky thanks God that he is unlike such sinners, that he disagrees with them, and has remained a revolutionary (sic !). As a matter of fact, Kautsky’s stand is the same as theirs. Kautsky, the hypocritieal chauvinist who employs sentimental phrases, is much more odious than the chauvinist simpletons, David and Heine, Lensch and Haenisch. —Lenin

[3] Incidentally, it would not have been at all necessary to close all Social-Democratic papers in reply to the government’s ban on writing about class hatred and class struggle. To agree not to write about this, as Vorwärts did was mean and cowardly. Vorwärts died politically when it did this and Martov was right when he said so. It was, however, possible to retain the legal papers by declaring that they were non-Party and non-Social-Democratic, and served the technical needs of a section of the workers, i. e., that they were non-political papers. Underground Social-Democratic literature containing an assessment of the war, and legally published working-class literature without that assessment, a literature that does not say what is not true, but keeps silent about the truth—why should this not have been possible? —Lenin

[4] Le Socialisme—a journal edited and published in Paris between 1907 and June 1914 by the French socialist Jules Guesde.

  V | VII  

< backward     Contents     forward >
Works Index   |   Volume 21 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index