V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



Legal mass organisations of the working class are perhaps the most important feature of the socialist parties in the epoch of the Second International. They were the strongest in the German Party, and it was here that the war of 1914-15 created a most acute crisis and made the issue a most pressing one. The initiation of revolutionary activities would obviously have led to the dissolution of these legal organisations by the police, and the old party—from Legien to Kautsky inclusively—sacrificed the revolutionary aims of the proletariat for the sake of preserving the present legal organisations. No matter how much this may be denied, it is a fact. The proletariat’s right to revolution was sold for a mess of pottage—organisations permitted by the present police law.

Take the pamphlet by Karl Legien, leader of the German Social-Democratic trade unions, entitled Why Trade Union Officials Must Take a More Active Part in the Internal Life of the Party (Berlin, 1915). This is a paper read by the author to a gathering of trade union officials on January 27, 1915. In the course of this lecture Legien read—and reproduced in his pamphlet—a most interesting document that would not otherwise have been passed by the military censor. This document—the so-called Notes for Speakers in the District of Niederbarnim (a suburb of Berlin)—is an exposition of the views of the German Left-wing Social Democrats, of their protest against the Party. The revolutionary Social-Democrats, says the document, did not and could not foresee a certain factor, viz.:

That the whole of the organised power of the German Social-Democratic Party and the trade unions would take the side of the war government, and that the whole of this power would be used for the purpose of suppressing the revolutionary energy of the masses” (p. 34 of Legien’s pamphlet).

This is the absolute truth. Also true is the following statement contained in the same document:

"The vote of the Social-Democratic group in the Reichstag on August 4 proved that a different attitude, even had it been deeply rooted in the masses, could not have asserted itself under the leadership of a tested party. It could have asserted itself only against the will of the   leading party bodles, only by overcoming the resistance of the party and the trade unions” (ibid.).

This is the absolute truth.

Had the Social-Democratic group in the Reichstag done its duty on August 4, the external form of organisation would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained, the spirit that animated the Party under the Anti-Socialist Law and helped it to overcome all difficulties” (ibid.).

It is pointed out in Legien’s pamphlet that the “leaders”, brought together to listen to his lecture and styling themselves leading trade union officials, laughed when they heard this. The idea that it was possible and necessary to organise illegal revolutionary organisations at a moment of crisis (as was done under the Anti-Socialist Law) seemed ridiculous to them. Legien, that most faithful watchdog of the bourgeoisie, exclaimed, beating his breast:

This is an obviously anarchist idea: to wreck the organisation in order to bring about a solutlon of the problem by the masses. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an anarchist idea!”

Hear, hear!” came a chorus of exclamations (ibid., p. 37) from the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, who style themselves leaders of the Social-Democratic organisations of the working class.

An edifying picture. People are so degraded and stultified by bourgeois legality that they cannot even conceive of the need for organisations of another kind, illegal organisations, for the purpose of guiding the revolutionary struggle. So low have people fallen that they imagine that legal unions existing with the permission of the police are a kind of ultima Thule—as though the preservation of such unions as leading bodies is at all conceivable at a time of crisis! Here you have the living dialectic of opportunism: the mere growth of legal unions and the mere habit that stupid but conscientious philistines have of confining themselves to bookkeeping, have created a situation in which, during a crisis, these conscientious philistines have proved to be traitors and betrayers, who would smother the revolutionary energy of the masses. This is no chance occurrence. The building of a revolutionary organisation must be begun—that is demanded by the new historical situation, by the epoch   of proletarian revolutionary action—but it can be begun only over the heads of the old leaders, the stranglers of revolutionary energy, over the heads of the old party, through its destruction.

Of course, the counter-revolutionary philistines cry out “anarchism!”, just as the opportunist Eduard David cried “anarchism” when he denounced Karl Liebknecht. In Germany, only those leaders seem to hava remained honest socialists whom the opportunists revile as anarchists... .

Take the army of today. It is a good example of organisation. This organisation is good only because it is flexible and is able at the same time to give millions of people a single will. Today these millions are living in their homes in various parts of the country; tomorrow mobilisation is ordered, and they report for duty. Today they lie in the trenches, and this may go on for months; tomorrow they are led to the attack in another order. Today they perform miracles in sheltering from bullets and shrapnel; tomorrow they perform miracles in hand-to-hand-combat. Today their advance detachments lay minefields; tomorrow they advance scores of miles guided by airmen flying overhead. When, in the pursuit of a single aim and animated by a single will, millions alter the forms of their communication and their behaviour, change the place and the mode of their activities, change their tools and weapons in accordance with the changing conditions and the requirements of the struggle—all this is genuine organisation.

The same holds true for the working-class struggle against the bourgeoisie. Today there is no revolutionary situation, the conditions that cause unrest among the masses or heighten their activities do not exist; today you are given a ballot paper—take it, learn to organise so as to use it as a weapon against your enemies, not as a means of getting cushy legislative jobs for men who cling to their parliamentary seats for fear of having to go to prison. Tomorrow your ballot paper is taken from you and you are given a rifle or a splendid and most up-to-date quick-firing gun—take this weapon of death and destruction, pay no heed to the mawkish snivellers who are afraid of war; too much still remains in the world that must be destroyed with fire and sword for the emancipation of the working class; if anger and desperation grow   among the masses, if a revolutionary situation arises, prepare to create new organisations and use these useful weapons of death and destruction against your own government and your own bourgeoisie.

That is not easy, to be sure. It will demand arduous preparatory activities and heavy sacrifices. This is a new form of organisation and struggle that also has to be learnt, and knowledge is not acquired without errors and setbacks. This form of the class struggle stands in the same relation to participation in elections as an assault against a fortress stands in relation to manoeuvring, marches, or lying in the trenches. It is not so often that history places this form of struggle on the order of the day, but then its significance is felt for decades to come. Days on which such method of struggle can and must be employed are equal to scores of years of other historical epochs.

Compare K. Kautsky and K. Legien. Kautsky writes:

As long as the party was small, every protest against war had propaganda value as an act of bravery... . the conduct of the Russian and Serbian comrades has met with general appreciation. The stronger a party becomes, the more are the propaganda considerations, in the motives of its decisions, interwoven with the calculation of practical consequences, the more difficult does it become to give due regard equally to both motives, and yet neither of them must be neglected. Therefore, the stronger we become, the more easily differences arise between us in every new and complex situation” (Internationalism and the War, p. 30).

These arguments of Kautsky’s differ from Legien’s only in that they are hypocritical and cowardly. In substance, Kautsky supports and justifies the Legien’s despicable renunciation of revolutionary activities, but he does so stealthily, without committing himself; he makes shift with hints, and confines himself to complimenting both Legien and the revolutionary behaviour of the Russians. We Russians are used to witnessing this kind of attitude towards revolutionaries only among the liberals; the latter are always ready to acknowledge the “courage” of the revolutionaries, but at the same time they will on no account renounce their ultra-opportunist tactics. Self-respecting revolutionaries will not accept Kautsky’s “expressions of appreciation” and will indignantly reject such a presentation of the question. Were there no revolutionary situation, were it not obligatory   to propagate revolutionary action, the conduct of the Russians and Serbians would be incorrect, and their tactics would be wrong. Let such knightly persons as Legien and Kautsky at least have the courage of their convictions; let them say this openly.

If, however, the tactics of the Russian and Serbian socialists deserve “appreciation”, then it is wrong and criminal to justify the contrary tactics of the “strong” parties, the German, the French, etc. By means of an intentionally vague expression—"practical consequences"—Kautsky has concealed the plain truth that the great and strong parties were frightened by the prospect of their organisations being dissolved, their funds sequestered and their leaders arrested by the government. This means that Kautsky justifies betrayal of socialism by pleading the unpleasant “practical consequences” that follow from revolutionary tactics. Is this not a prostitution of Marxism?

We would have been arrested,” one of the Social-Democratic deputies who voted for the war credits on August is alleged to have declared at a workers’ meeting in Berlin. The workers shouted in reply: “Well, what would have been bad about that?”

If there was no other signal that would instil in the German and the French working masses revolutionary sentiments and the need to prepare for revolutionary action, the arrest of a member of parliament for a courageous speech would have been useful as a call for unity of the proletarians of the various countries in their revolutionary work. It is not easy to bring about such unity; all the more was it the duty of members of parliament, whose high office made their purview of the entire political scene so extensive, to take the initiative.

Not only in wartime but positively in any acute political situation, to say nothing of periods of revolutionary mass action of any kind, the governments of even the freest bourgeois countries will threaten to dissolve the legal organisations, seize their funds, arrest their leaders, and threaten other “practical consequences” of the same kind. What are we to do then? Justify the opportunists on these grounds, as Kautsky does? But this would mean sanctifying the transformation of the Social-Democratic parties into national liberal-labour parties.

There is only one conclusion a socialist can draw, namely, that pure legalism, the legalism-and-nothing-but-legalism of the “European” parties, is now obsolete and, as a result of the development of capitalism in the pre-imperialist stage, has become the foundation for a bourgeois labour policy. It must be augmented by the creation of an illegal basis, an illegal organisation, illegal Social-Democratic work, without, however, surrendering a single legal position. Experience will show how this is to be done, if only the desire to take this road exists, as well as a realisation that it is necessary. In 1912-14, the revolutionary Social-Democrats of Russia proved that this problem can be solved. Muranov, the workers’ deputy in the Duma, who at the trial behaved better than the rest and was exiled to Siberia, clearly demonstrated that—besides “ministeriable” parliamentarism (from Henderson, Sembat and Vandervelde down to Südekum and Scheidemann, the latter two are also being completely “ministeriable”, although they are not admitted further than the ante-room!)—there can be illegal and revolutionary parliamentarism. Let the Kosovskys and Potresovs admire the “European” parliamentarism of the lackeys or accept it—we shall not tire of telling the workers that such legalism, such Social-Democracy of the Legien, Kautsky, Scheidemann brand, deserves nothing but contempt.


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