V. I.   Lenin

The Russian Brand of Südekum

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 37, February 1, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 118-124.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2002 (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

The word Südekum has come to be used in a generic sense to denote a type of smug and unscrupulous opportunist and social-chauvinist. It is a good sign that the Südekums are held in general contempt. There is, however, only one way for us to avoid falling into chauvinism ourselves in so doing: we must do everything we can to help unmask the Russian Südekums.

By his pamphlet On the War, Pleklianov has definitely placed himself at the head of the latter. His arguments are a substitution of sophistry for dialectics all along the line. He sophistically denounces German opportunism so as to shield French and Russian opportunism. The result is not a struggle against international opportunism, but support for it. He sophistically bemoans the fate of Belgium, while saying nothing about Galicia. He sophistically confuses the period of imperialism (i.e., one in which, as all Marxists hold, the objective conditions are ripe for the collapse of capitalism, and there are masses of socialist proletarians), and the period of bourgeois-democratic national movements; in other words, he confuses a period in which the destruction of bourgeois fatherlands by an international revolution of the proletariat is imminent, and the period of their inception and consolidation. He sophistically accuses the German bourgeoisie of having broken the peace, while remaining silent about the lengthy and elaborate preparations for a war against Germany by the bourgeoisie of the “Triple Entente”.[1] He sophistically evades the Basle resolution.. He sophistically substitutes national-liberalism for social-democracy: the desirability of tsarism’s victory is ascribed to the interests of Russia’s economic progress, while the nationalities in Russia, or tsarism’s stunting Russian economic   growth, or the relatively far more rapid and successful growth of Germany’s productive forces, and so on and so forth, are all questions that are shied away from. To analyse all of Plekhanov’s sophisms would require a series of articles, and many of his ridiculous absurdities are hardly worth going into. We shall touch upon only one of his alleged arguments. In 1870 Engels wrote to Marx that Wilhelm Liebknecht was mistaken in making anti-Bismarckism his sole guiding principle.[2] Plekhanov was glad to have discovered the quotation: the same is true, he argues, with regard to anti-tsarism! Let us, however, try to replace sophistry (i.e., the method of clutching at the outward similarity of instances, without considering the nexus between events) with dialectics (i.e., the method of studying all the concrete. circumstances of an event and of its development). The unification of Germany was a necessity which Marx recognised as such both prior to and following 1848. As early as 1859, Engels called forthright upon the German people to fight for unification.[3] When unification through revolution failed, Bismarck achieved it in a counter-revolutionary, Junker fashion, Anti-Bismarckism became absurd as a sole principle, since the necessary unification was an accomplished fact. But what about Russia? Did our brave Pleklianov formerly have the courage to declare that Russia’s development demanded the conquest of Galicia, Constantinople, Armenia, Persia, etc.? Has he the courage to say so now? Has he considered that Germany had to progress from the national disunity of the Germans (who had been oppressed both by France and Russia in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century) to a unified nation, whereas in Russia the Great Russians have crushed rather than united a number of other nations? Without giving thought to such things, Pleklianov has simply masked his chauvinism by distorting the meaning of the Engels quotation of 1870 in the same fashion as Südekum has distorted an 1891 quotation from Engels to the effect that the Germans must wage a life-and-death struggle against the allied armies of France and Russia.

In a different kind of language and in quite different circumstances, the selfsame chauvinism is defended by Nasha Zarya Nos. 7-8-9, wherein Cherevanin predicts and evokes   “the defeat of Germany”, asserting that “Europe [!!] has risen up” against that country; Mr. A. Potresov berates the German Social-Democrats for their “blunder”, which “is worse than any crime”, etc., claiming that German militarism is guilty of “special, extraordinary sins”, and that it is “not the Pan-Slavic dreams of certain Russian circles which have been a menace to European peace”, etc.

When the legal press thus depicts Germany’s “extraordinary” guilt and advocates the necessity of her defeat, is it not echoing Purishkevich and the social-chauvinists? The pressure of the tsar’s censors imposes silence about “extraordinary” sins a hundred times greater in number, committed by Russian militarism. Is it not obvious that, in a situation such as this, people who do not wish to he chauvinist should at least refrain from speaking of Germany’s defeat and her extraordinary sins?

Nasha Zarya is not merely pursuing the line of “nonresistance to war”; it is doing much more-bringing grist to the mill of Great-Russian, tsarist-Purishkevjch chauvinism by using “Social-Democratic” arguments for the preachment of Germany’s defeat, and shielding the Pan-Slavists. It was none other than the Nasha Zarya writers who in 1912-14 conducted mass propaganda of liquidationism among the workers.

Finally, there is Axelrod, whom Martov is trying so angrily and so unsuccessfully to cover up, defend and shield, in exactly the same way as he has been doing for the Nasha Zarya writers.

With Axelrod’s consent, his views were set forth in Nos. 86 and 87 of Gobs. These views are social-chauvinist. He used the following arguments to defend the French and Belgian socialists joining the bourgeois governments: (1) “To Marx, historical necessity, which is often inappropriately cited nowadays, did not mean a passive attitude towards a concrete evil-in expectation of the socialist revolution.” What muddied reasoning! What has this got to do with it all? Everything that takes place in history takes place of necessity. That is elementary. The opponents of social-chauvinism have cited, not historical necessity but the imperialist nature of the war. Axeirod pretends that he does not understand this, or the consequent appraisal   of the “concrete evil”, viz., bourgeois domination in all lands, and the timeliness of launching revolutionary action leading to a “social revolution”. It is the social-chauvinists who are “passive” by denying this. (2) It is impossible “to ignore the question of who actually started” the war, “thereby imposing upon all attacked countries the necessity of defending their independence”. On the same page, however, Axeirod admits that “of course the French imperialists were out to provoke a war in two or three years’ time”.! During that period, he maintains, the proletariat would grow stronger, thereby enhancing the chances of peace! We know, however, that during that period, opportunism, which is so dear to Axelrod’s heart, would grow stronger, thereby enhancing the chances of its even more shameful betrayal of socialism. We know that, for decades, three robbers (the bourgeoisie and the governments of Britain, Russia and France) were arming to pillage Germany. Is there anything surprising that two robbers began the attack before the other three got the new knives they had ordered? Is it not a sophism for phrases about “who started the war” to be used to gloss over the equal “guilt” of the bourgeoisie of all countries, which was unanimously recognised without question by all socialists at Basle? (3) “To blame the Belgian socialists for defending their country” is “not Marxism, but cynicism”. This was exactly how Marx termed Proudhon’s attitude towards the Polish uprising (of 1863).[4] Beginning with 1848, Marx constantly stressed the historical progressiveness of the Polish uprising against tsarism. That was something no one dared deny. The concrete conditions consisted in an unresolved national problem in the east of Europe, i.e., in a bourgeois-democratic, not imperialist, nature of the war against tsarism. That is elementary.

If one’s attitude towards the socialist revolution is negative, scoffing or negligent (like that of the Axelrods), then one cannot help the Belgian “country” in the present and concrete war otherwise than by helping tsarism to throttle the Ukraine. That is a fact, which it is cynical for a Russian socialist to evade. It is just as cynical to raise a clamour over Belgium while remaining silent about Galicia.

What ought the Belgian socialists to have done? Since they were unable to accomplish a social revolution together with the French, etc., they had to submit to the majority of the nation at the time, and go to war. But, while submitting to the will of the slave-owning class, they should have placed the responsibility on the latter, and not have voted for war credits; they should have sent Vandervelde, not to engage in ministerial missions to the exploiters, but to organise (together with the revolutionary Social-Democrats of all countries) illegal revolutionary propaganda in favour of the “socialist revolution” and civil war; in the army too such work should have been conducted (experience having shown that even “fraternisation” between workingmen clad in uniforms is possible in the trenches of the fighting armies!). Prattling about dialectics and Marxism while revealing inability to combine the temporary need to submit to the majority with revolutionary work under all conditions mean scoffing at the workers and jeering at socialism. “Citizens of Belgium! Our country has met with a great calamity brought about by the bourgeoisie of all countries, including Belgium. You do not wish to overthrow that bourgeoisie? You do not believe in an appeal to the socialists of Germany? We are in the minority; so I must submit to you and go to war, but even then I shall call and prepare for civil war by the proletariat of all countries, because there is no other salvation for the peasants and workers of Belgium and other countries!” For a speech like this, a Belgian or French deputy would have been sent to prison, not given the post of minister, but he would have been a socialist, not a traitor; in the trenches, both the French and German workingmen in military uniforms would have spoken of him as their own leader, not as a traitor to the working class. (4) “While fatherlands exist, while, as at present, the proletariat’s life and its movement are compressed into the framework of the fatherlands, and while the proletariat does not feel another and international soil under its feet, the question of patriotism and self-defence will continue to exist for the working class.” Bourgeois fatherlands will exist until they are destroyed by the international revolution of the proletariat. The existence of conditions suitable for a revolution was recognised even by Kautsky   as early as 1909; just as it was unanimously recognised later by the Basle Congress, and is now proved by the fact of the deep sympathy on the part of the workers of all countries for those who do not vote for war credits, and are not afraid of prison and the other sacrifices connected with any revolution, by virtue of “historical necessity”. Axeirod’s phrase is nothing but a pretext to avoid revolutionary activity, merely a repetition of the arguments used by the chauvinist bourgeoisie. (5) The same is true about his assertions that the conduct of the Germans was not treachery, and that their behaviour was dictated by “a keen sentiment, the consciousness of an organic bond with that piece of land, the fatherland, on which the German proletarians live andwork”. In reality, the behaviour of the Germans, as well as that of Guesde and the rest, is undoubtedly treachery; to mask and to shield it is a disgrace. In reality, it is the bourgeois fatherlands that mutilate, cripple, crush and destroy the “living bond” between the German workers and the German land by creating a “bond” between the slave and the slave-owner. In reality, only the destruction of the bourgeois fatherlands can give the workers of all countries a “bond with the land”, freedom of their own language, bread, and the benefits of civilisation. Axeiroci is simply an apologist for the bourgeoisie. (6) To persuade the workers to be “cautious in accusing of opportunism” such “tested Marxists as Guesde”, etc., means to induce the workers to be servile towards their leaders. We would advise the worker to learn from the example of Guesde’s whole life, with the exceptiiz of his patent betrayal of socialism in 1914. Private and other circumstances may be found that mitigate his guilt, but this is not a question of the guilt of individuals; what we are interested in is the socialist significance of events. (7) To refer to the “formal” permissibility of joining government on the ground that there exists some minute point somewhere in a resolution, mentioning “exceptionally important cases”, is tantamount to the most dishonest pettifogging, since this minor point was obviously intended to aid the international revolution of the proletariat, not to counteract it. (8) Axeirod’s assertion that “the defeat of Russia, while unable to hamper the organic development of the country, would   help liquidate the old regime”, is true if taken by itself, but when it is used to justify the German chauvinists, it is nothing but an attempt to curry favour with the Südekums. Recognition of the usefulness of Russia’s defeat, without openly accusing the German and Austrian Social-Democrats of having betrayed socialism means in reality helping them justify themselves, wriggle out of a difficult situation, and deceive the workers. Axelrod’s article is a double obeisance-one to the German social-chauvinists, the other to the French. Taken together, these obeisances constitute typical “Russo-Bundist” social-chauvinism.

Let the readers now judge for themselves the consistency displayed by the Gobs editors who, in publishing these most disgraceful arguments of Axeirod’s, have expressed their disagreement only with “some of his ideas” while in the editorial of No. 96 of their paper, they advocate a “sharp rupture with the elements of active social-patriotism”. Are the editors of Gobs so naïve or so inattentive that they do not see the truth? Do they not see that Axelrod’s reasonings are, from beginning to end, “elements of active [his writings being the writer’s activity] social-patriotism”.? And what about the Nasha Zarya writers: Messrs. Cherevanin, A. Potresov and Co.; are they not elements of active social-patriotism?


[1] The Triple Entente—the imperialist bloc of Britain, France and tsarist Russia, which took final shape in 1907, and was opposed to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The emergence of the Triple Entente was preceded by the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance of 1891-93 and the Anglo-French agreement of 1904. The formation of the Entente was concluded by the signing of the Anglo-Russian agreement in 1907. During the First World War the military and political alliance between Britain, France and Russia was joined by the United States, Japan, Italy and other countries.

[2] See Engels’s letter to Marx of August 15, 1870.

[3] Lenin is referring to Engels’s work “The Po and the Rhine”.

[4] See Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, p. 227.

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