V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



The serious scientific and political question, which Kautsky has deliberately evaded by means of subterfuges of all kinds, thereby giving enormous pleasure to the opportunists, is this: how was it possible for the most prominent representatives of the Second International to betray socialism?

This question should not, of course, be considered from the standpoint of the biographies of the individual leaders. Their future biographers will have to analyse the problem from this angle as well, but what interests the socialist movement today is not that, but a study of the historical   origins, the conditions, the significance and the strength of the social-chauvinist trend. (1) Where did social-chauvinism spring from? (2) What gave it strength? (3) How must it be combated? Only such an approach to the question can be regarded as serious, the “personal” approach being in practice an evasion, a piece of sophistry.

To answer the first question we must see, first, whether the ideological and political content of social-chauvinism is connected with some previous trend in socialism; and second, in what relation—from the standpoint of actual political divisions—the present division of socialists into opponents and defenders of social-chauvinism stands to divisions which historically preceded it.

By social-chauvinism we mean acceptance of the idea of the defence of the fatherland in the present imperialist war, justification of an alliance between socialists and the bourgeoisie and the governments of their “own” countries in this war, a refusal to propagate and support proletarian revolutionary action against one’s “own” bourgeoisie, etc. It is perfectly obvious that social-chauvinism’s basic ideological and political content fully coincides with the foundations of opportunism. It is one and the same tendency. In the condilions of the war of 1914-15, opportunism leads to social-chauvinism. The idea of class collaboration is opportunism’s main feature. The war has brought this idea to its logical conclusion, and has augmented its usual factors and stimuli with a number of extraordinary ones; through the operation of special threats and coercion it has compelled the philistine and disunited masses to collaborate with the bourgeoisie. This circumstance has naturally multiplied adherents of opportunism and fully explains why many radicals of yesterday have deserted to that camp.

Opportunism means sacrificing the fundamental interests of the masses to the temporary interests of an insignificant minority of the workers or, in other words, an alliance between a section of the workers and the bourgeoisie, directed against the mass of the proletariat. The war has made such an alliance particularly conspicuous and inescapable. Opportunism was engendered in the course of decades by the special features in the period of the development of capitalism, when the comparatively peaceful and cultured life of   a stratum of privileged workingmen “bourgeoisified” them, gave them crumbs from the table of their national capitalists, and isolated them from the suffering, misery and revolutionary temper of the impoverished and ruined masses. The imperialist war is the direct continuation and culmination of this state of affairs, because this is a war for the privileges of the Great-Power nations, for the repartition of colonies, and domination over other nations. To defend and strengthen their privileged position as a petty-bourgeois “upper stratum” or aristocracy (and bureaucracy) of the working class—such is the natural wartime continuation of petty bourgeois opportunist hopes and the corresponding tactics, such is the economic foundation of present-day social imperialism.[1] And, of course, the force of habit, the routine of relatively “peaceful” evolution, national prejudices, a fear of sharp turns and a disbelief in them—all these were additional circumstances which enhanced both opportunism and a hypocritical and a craven reconciliation with opportunism—ostensibly only for a time and only because of extraordinary causes and motives. The war has changed this opportunism, which had been fostered for decades, raised it to a higher stage, increased the number and the variety of its shades, augmented the ranks of its adherents, enriched their arguments with a multitude of new sophisms, and has   merged, so to say, many new streams and rivulets with the mainstream of opportunism. However, the mainstream has not disappeared. Quite the reverse.

Social-chauvinism is an opportunism which has matured to such a degree that the continued existence of this bourgeois abscess within the socialist parties has become impossible.

Those who refuse to see the closest and unbreakable link between social-chauvinism and opportunism clutch at individual instances—this opportunist or another, they say, has turned internationalist; this radical or another has turned chauvinist. But this kind of argument carries no weight as far as the development of trends is concerned. Firstly, chauvinism and opportunism in the labour movement have the same economic basis: the alliance between a numerically small upper stratum of the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie—who get but morsels of the privileges of their “own” national capital—against the masses of the proletarians, the masses of the toilers and the oppressed in general. Secondly, the two trends have the same ideological and political content. Thirdly, the old division of socialists into an opportunist trend and a revolutionary, which was characteristic of the period of the Second International (1889-1914), corresponds, by and large, to the new division into chauvinists and internationalists.

To realise the correctness of the latter statement, one must remember that social science (like science generally) usually deals with mass phenomena, not with individual cases.   Let us take ten European countries: Germany, Britain, Russia, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Switzerland, France and Belgium. In the first eight countries, the new division of socialists (according to internationalism) corresponds to the old division (according to opportunism): in Germany the magazine Sozialistische Monatshefte, which was a stronghold of opportunism, has become a stronghold of chauvinism. The ideas of internationalism have the support of the extreme Lefts. In Britain about three-sevenths of the British Socialist Party are internationalists (66 votes for an internationalist resolution and 84 against it, as shown by the latest counts), while in the opportunist bloc (the Labour Party plus the Fabians, plus the Independent Labour Party) less than one-seventh are internationalists.[2] In Russia, the liquidationist Nasha Zarya, the mainstay of the opportunists, has become the mainstay of chauvinism. Plekhanov and Alexinsky are making more noise, but we know from five years’ experience (1910-14) that they are incapable of conducting systematic propaganda among the masses in Russia. The nucleus of the internationalists in Russia is made up of “Pravdism”[4] and the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group in the Duma as representing the advanced workers who restored the Party in January 1912.

In Italy, the party of Bissolati and Co., which was purely opportunist, has turned chauvinist. Internationalism is represented by the workers’ party. The masses of the workers are for this party; the opportunists, the parliamentarians and the petty bourgeoisie are for chauvinism. In the course of several months a free choice could be made and indeed was made in Italy, not fortuitously but in conformity with the difference in the class stand of rank-and-file proletarians and the petty-bourgeois groups.

In Holland, Troelstra’s opportunist party is reconciled to chauvinism in general (one must not be deceived by the   fact that in Holland the petty bourgeoisie, like the big bourgeoisie, have a particular hatred of Germany, because the latter can “swallow” them up easiest of all). It is the Marxist party, led by Gorter and Pannekoek, that has produced consistent, sincere, ardent and convinced internationalists. In Sweden, Branting, the opportunist leader, is indignant at the German socialists being accused of treachery, while Höglund, leader of the Lefts, has declared that this is precisely the opinion of some of his adherents (see Sotsial-Demokrat No. 36). In Bulgaria, the “Tesnyaki”, who are opposed to opportunism, have, in their press (the paper Novo Vreme[5]), accused the German Social-Democrats of having “perpetrated a foul act”. In Switzerland, the adherents of the opportunist Greulich are inclined to justify the German Social-Democrats (see their organ, the Zurich Volksrecht, whereas those who support the much more radical R. Grimm have turned the Berne paper, Berner Tagwacht, into an organ of the German Lefts. Only two countries out of the ten—France and Belgium—are exceptions, but even here, strictly speaking, we see, not an absence of internationalists, but their excessive weakness and dejection (due in part to causes that can be readily understood); let us not forget that Vaillant himself has admitted, in l’Humanité, that he has received from his readers letters of an internationalist character, letters which, however, he has not published in full, not a single one of them!

By and large, if we take the trends and tendencies, we must admit that it was the opportunist wing of European socialism that betrayed socialism and deserted to chauvinism. What is the source of its strength and its seeming omnipotence within the official parties? Now that he himself is involved, Kautsky, who is well versed in raising questions of history, especially with reference to ancient Rome or similar matters that do not have a direct bearing on problems of our times, hypocritically pretends a lack of understanding. But the whole thing is crystal-clear. The immense strength of the opportunists and the chauvinists stems from their alliance with the bourgeoisie, with the governments and the General Staffs. This is often overlooked in Russia, where it is assumed the opportunists are a section of the socialist parties, that there always have been and will be two   extreme wings within those parties, that “extremes” should be avoided, etc., etc.—and plenty of similar philistine copybook maxims.

In reality, the opportunists’ formal membership in workers’ parties by no means disproves their objectively being a political detachment of the bourgeoisie, conductors of its influence, and its agents in the labour movement. When the opportunist Südekum, whose claim to fame is like that of Herostratus, convincingly demonstrated this social and class truth, many good people gasped with amazement. The French socialists and Plekhanov pointed the finger of scorn at Südekum—although had Vandervelde, Semhat or Plekhanov looked into a mirror they would have seen nothing but a Südekum, with slightly different national features. The members of the German Executive (Vorstand), who now praise Kautsky and are praised by Kautsky, have made haste to declare—cautiously, modestly and politely (without naming Südekum)—that they “do not agree” with Südekum’s line.

This is ridiculous, because, at the crucial moment, Südekum alone, actually proved stronger in the policies of the German Social-Democratic Party than a hundred Haases and Kautskys (just as Nasha Zarya alone is stronger than all the Brussels bloc trends, which are afraid to break away from that paper).

Why is that so? It is because behind Südekum are the bourgeoisie, the government, and the General Staff of a Great Power. These support Südekum’s policy in a thousand ways, whereas his opponents’ policy is frustrated by every means, including prison and the firing squad. Südekum’s voice reaches the public in millions of copies of bourgeois newspapers (as do the voices of Vandervelde, Sembat, and Plekhanov), whereas the voices of his opponents cannot be heard in the legal press because of the military censorship!

It is generally agreed that opportunism is no chance occurrence, sin, slip, or treachery on the part of individuals, but a social product of an entire period of history. The significance of this truth is not always given sufficient thought. Opportunism has been nurtured by legalism. The workers’ parties of the period between 1889 and 1914 had to take advantage of bourgeois legality. When the crisis   came, they should have adopted illegal methods of work (but this could not be done otherwise than with the greatest vigour and determination, combined with a number of stratagems). A single Südekum was sufficient to prevent the adoption of illegal methods, because, speaking in a historico-philosophical sense, he had the whole of the “old world” behind him, and because he, Südekum, has always betrayed, and will always betray, to the bourgeoisie all the military plans of its class enemy, speaking in the sense of practical politics.

It is a fact that the entire German Social-Democratic Party (and the same holds for the French and other parties) does only that which pleases Südekum or can be tolerated by Südekum. Nothing else can be done legally. Anything honest and really socialist that takes place in the German Social-Democratic Party, is done in opposition to its centres, by circumventing its Executive and Central Organ, by violating organisational discipline, in a factional manner, on behalf of new and anonymous centres of a new party, as was the case, for instance, with the German Lefts’ manifesto published in Berner Tagwacht on May 31 of this year.[6] As a matter of fact, a new party is growing up, gaining strength and being organised, a real workers’ party, a genuinely revolutionary Social-Democratic Party, unlike the old and corrupt national-liberal party of Legien, Südekum, Kautsky, Haase, Scheidemann and Co.[3]

It was, therefore, a profound historical truth that the opportunist “Monitor” blurted out in the conservative Preussische Jahrbücher[7] when he said it would be bad for the opportunists (i.e., the bourgeoisie ) if present-day Social-Democracy were to swing to the right—because in that case the workers would desert it. The opportunists (and the bourgeoisie) need the party as it is today, a party combining the Right and the Left wings and officially represented by Kautsky, who will be able to reconcile everything in the world by means of smooth, “thoroughly Marxist” phrases. In word, socialism and the revolutionary spirit for the people, the masses, the workers; indeed, Südekumism, adhering to the bourgeoisie in any grave crisis. We say: any crisis, because in any serious political strike, and not only in time of war, “feudalist” Germany like “free and parliamentary” Britain or France will immediately introduce martial law under one name or another. No one of sound mind and judgement can have any doubt about this.

Hence logically follows the reply to the question raised above, viz., how is social-chauvinism to be combated? Social-chauvinism is an opportunism which has matured to such a degree, grown so strong and brazen during the long period of comparatively “peaceful” capitalism, so definite in its political ideology, and so closely associated with the bourgeoisie and the governments, that the existence of such a trend within the Social-Democratic workers’ parties cannot be tolerated. Flimsy, thin-soled shoes may be good enough to walk in on the well-paved streets of a small provincial town, but heavy hob-nailed boots are needed for walking in the hills. In Europe socialism has emerged from a comparatively peaceful stage that is confined within narrow and national limits. With the outbreak of the war of 1914-15, it entered the stage of revolutionary action; there can be no doubt that the time has come for a complete break with opportunism, for its expulsion from the workers’ parties.

This definition of the tasks the new era of international development confronts socialism with does not, of course, immediately show how rapidly and in what definite forms the process of separation of the workers’ revolutionary Social-Democratic parties from the petty-bourgeois opportunist parties will proceed in the various countries. It does,   however, reveal the need clearly to realise that such a separation is inevitable, and that the entire policy of the workers’ parties must be directed from this standpoint. The war of 1914-15 is such a great turn in history that the attitude towards opportunism cannot remain the same as it has been. What has happened cannot be erased. It is impossible to obliterate from the minds of the workers, or from the experience of the bourgeoisie, or from the political lessons of our epoch in general, the fact that, at a moment of crisis, the opportunists proved to be the nucleus of those elements within the workers’ parties that deserted to the bourgeoisie. Opportunism—to speak on a European scale—was in its adolescent stage, as it were, before the war. With the outbreak of the war it grew to manhood and its “innocence” and youth cannot be restored. An entire social stratum, consisting of parliamentarians, journalists, labour officials, privileged office personnel, and certain strata of the proletariat, has sprung up and has become amalgamated with its own national bourgeoisie, which has proved fully capable of appreciating and “adapting” it. The course of history cannot be turned back or checked—we can and must go fearlessly onward, from the preparatory legal working-class organisations, which are in the grip of opportunism, to revolutionary organisations that know how not to confine themselves to legality and are capable of safeguarding themselves against opportunist treachery, organisations of a proletariat that is beginning a “struggle for power”, a struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

This, incidentally, proves how wrong are the views of those who befog both their own minds and those of the workers with the question as to what should he done with such outstanding authorities of the Second International as Guesde, Plekhanov, Kautsky, etc. In fact, no such question arises. If these persons fail to understand the new tasks, they will have to stand aside or remain as they are at present, in captivity to the opportunists. If these persons free themselves from “captivity” they are hardly likely to encounter political obstacles to their return to the camp of the revolutionaries. At all events, it is absurd to substitute the question of the role of individuals for the question of the struggle between trends and of the new period in the working-class movement.



[1] Here are several examples showing how highly the imperialists and the bourgeoisie value the importance of “Great-Power” and national privileges as a means of dividing the workers and diverting them from socialism. In a book entitled Greater Rome and Greater Brttain (Oxford, 1912), the British imperialist Lucas acknowledges the legal disabilities of coloured people in the present British Empire (pp. 96-97), and remarks that “in our own Empire, where white workers and coloured workers are side by side, ... they do not work on the same level, and that the white man is rather the overseer of ... the coloured man. In a pamphlet entitled Social-Democracy after the War (1915), Erwin Belger, a former secretary of the Imperial Alliance against Social-Democrats, praises the conduct of the Social-Democrats and declares that they must become a “purely labour party” (p. 43) a “national”, a “German labour party” (p. 45), without “internationalist, Utopian”, and “revolutionary” ideas (p. 44). In a book dealing with capital investments abroad (1907), the German imperialist Sartorius von Waltershausen blames the German Social-Democrats for ignoring the “national welfare” (p. 438)—which consists in the seizure of colonies—and praises the British workers’ “realism”, for instance, their struggle against immigration. In a book on the   principles of world politics, the German diplomat Ruedorffer stresses the generally known fact that the internationalisation of capital by no means eliminates the national capitalists’ intensified struggle for power and influence, for “majority share-holding” (p. 161). The author notes that the workers become involved in this intensified struggle (p. 175). The book is dated October 1913, and the author speaks with perfect clarity of the “interests of capital” (p. 157) as the cause of modern wars. He says that the question of the “national tendency” becomes the kingpin of socialism (p. 176), and that the governments have nothing to fear from the internationist manifestos of the Social-Democrats (p. 177) who in reality are turning more and more national (pp. 103, 110, 176). International socialism will be victorious, he says, if it exctricates the workers from national influence, since nothing can be achieved through violence alone; however, it will suffer defeat if national sentiments gain the upper hand (pp. 173-74). —Lenin

[2] The Independent Labour Party alone is usually compared with the British Socialist Party. That is wrong. The essentials should be considered, not the forms of organisation. Take the daily newspapers: there were two of them—one, the Daily Herald, mouthpiece of the British Socialist Party, the other, the Daily Citizen, mouthpiece of the opportunist bloc. The dailies do the actual work of propaganda, agitation and organisation. —Lenin

[3] What happened before the historic voting of August 4 [for war credits. —Editor.] is extremely characteristic. The official party has cast the cloak of bureaucratic hypocrisy over this event, saying that the majority decided and that all voted unanimously in favour. But this hypocrasy was exposed by Ströbel who told the truth in the journal Die Internationale. The Social-Democratic members of the Reichstag split into two groups, each of whom came with an ultimatum, i.e., a dissentient decision, i.e., one signifying a split. One group, the opportunists, who were about thirty strong, decided to vote in favour, under all circumstances; the other and Left group numbering about fifteen, decided—less resolutely—to vote against. When the “Centre” or the “Marsh”, who never take a firm stand, voted with the opportunists, the Lefts sustained a crushing defeat and—submitted! Talk about the “unity” of the German Social-Democrats is sheer hypocrisy, which actually coversup the inevitable submission of the Lefts to ultimatums from the opportunists. —Lenin

[4] Pravdism, i.e., Bolshevism (from the name of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda ).

[5] Novo Vreme (New Times )—a scientific and theoretical journal of the revolutionary wing of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party (Tesnyaki), founded by Dimitr Blagoyev in 1897 in Plovdiv and later published in Sofia. In 1903 the journal became the organ of the Bulgarian Workers’ Social-Democratic Party (Tesnyaki ). Its publication ceased in February 1916 but was resumed in 1919. The editor was Dimitr Blagoyev, its contributors including Georgiyev, Kirkov, Kabakchiev, Kolarov and Petrov. In 1923 the journal was suppressed by the Bulgarian reactionary government. Since 1947 Novo Vreme—the monthly theoretical organ of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

[6] This refers to the manifesto “The Chief Enemy Is in Our Own Country”, written by Karl Liebknecht.

[7] Preussische Jahrbücher—a monthly of a conservative trend, organ of the German capitalists and landownors, published in Berlin from 1858 to 1935.

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