V. I.   Lenin

What Next?

On the Tasks Confronting the Workers’ Parties with Regard to Opportunism and Social-Chauvinism

Published: Sotsial-DemokratNo. 36, January 9, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 107-114.
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 tremendous crisis created within European socialism by the world war has (as is always the case in great crises) resulted first in enormous confusion; it then led to a series of new groupings taking shape among representatives of various currents, shades and views in socialism; finally, it raised, with particular acuteness and insistence, the question of what changes in the foundations of socialist policy follow from the crisis and are demanded by it. Between August and December 1914, the socialists of Russia also passed through these three “stages” in a marked fashion. We all know that there was no little confusion at the beginning; the confusion was increased by the tsarist persecutions, by the behaviour of the “Europeans”, and by the war alarm. In Paris and Switzerland, where there was the greatest number of political exiles, the greatest links with Russia, and the greatest degree of freedom, a new definite line of demarcation between the various attitudes towards problems raised by the war was being drawn, during September and October, at discussions, lectures, and in the press. It can safely be said that there is not a single shade of opinion in any current (or group) of socialism (and near-socialism) in Russia which has not found expression and been analysed. The general feeling is that the time has come for precise and positive conclusions capable of serving as the basis of systematic and practical activity, propaganda, agitation, and organisation. The situation is clear, all have expressed themselves. Let us now see who is with whom, and whither the courses have been taken.

On November 23 (N. S.), on the day following the publication in Petrograd of a government communique on the arrest of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group in the Duma,[4] an event took place at the congress of the Swedish Social-Democratic Party in Stockholm, which finally and irrevocably placed on the order of the day the two questions just emphasised.[5] Readers will find below a description of this event, namely, a full translation, from the official Swedish Social-Democratic report, of the speeches both of Belenin (representing the Central Committee) and of Larin (representing the Organising Committee),[6] and also the debate on the question raised by Branting.

For the first time since the outbreak of war, a representative of our Party, of its Central Committee, and a representative of the liquidationist Organising Committee met at a congress of socialists of a neutral country. What did their speeches differ in? Belenin took a most definite stand regarding the grave, painful but momentous issues of the present-day socialist movement; quoting Sotsial-Demokrat,[7] the Party’s Central Organ, he came out with a resolute declaration of war against opportunism, branding the behaviour of the German Social-Democratic leaders (and “many others”) as treachery. Larin took no stand at all; he passed over the essence of the question in silence, confining himself to those hackneyed, hollow and moth-eaten phrases that always win hand-claps from opportunists and social-chauvinists in all countries. But then, Belenin said nothing at all about our attitude towards the other Social-Democratic parties or groups in Russia, as though intimating: “Such is our stand; as for the others, we shall not express ourselves as yet, but shall wait and see which course they will take.” Larin, on the contrary, unfurled the banner of “unity”, shed a tear over the “bitter fruit of the split in Russia”, and depicted in gorgeous colours the “work of unification” carried on by the Organising Committee, which, be said, had united Plekhanov, the Caucasians, the Bundists, the Poles,[8] and so forth. Larin’s intentions will be dealt with elsewhere (see below: The Kind of Unity Larin Proclaimed”[1] ). What interests us here is the fundamental question of unity.

We have before us two slogans. One is: war against the opportunists and the social-chauvinists, who are traitors. The other is: unity in Russia, in particular with Plekhanov (who, we shall state parenthetically, is behaving with us in exactly the same way as Südekum[2] with the Germans, Hyndman with the British, etc.). Is it not obvious that, though he is afraid to call things by their proper names, Larin has in fact come out as advocate of the opportunists and social-chauvinists?

Let us, however, consider in general and in the light of present-day events the meaning of the “unity” slogan. The proletariat’s unity is its greatest weapon in the struggle for the socialist revolution. From this indisputable truth it follows just as indisputably that, when a proletarian party is joined by a considerable number of petty-bourgeois elements capable of hampering the struggle for the socialist revolution, unity with such elements is harmful and perilous to the cause of the proletariat. Present-day events have shown that, on the one hand, the objective conditions are ripe for an imperialist war (i.e., a war reflecting the last and highest stage of capitalism), and, on the other hand, that decades of a so-called peaceful epoch have allowed an accumulation of petty-bourgeois and opportunist junk within the socialist parties of all the European countries. Some fifteen years ago, during the celebrated “Bernsteiniad” in Germany—and even earlier in many other countries—the question of the opportunist and alien elements within the proletarian parties had become a burning issue. There is hardly a single Marxist of note who has not recognised many times and on various occasions that the opportunists are in fact a non-proletarian element hostile to the socialist revolution. The particularly rapid growth of this social element of late years is beyond doubt: it includes officials of the legal labour unions, parliamentarians and the other intellectuals, who have got themselves easy and comfort able posts in the legal mass movement, some sections of the better paid workers, office employees, etc., etc. The   war has clearly proved that at a moment of crisis (and the imperialist era will undoubtedly be one of all kinds of crises) a sizable mass of opportunists, supported and often directly guided by the bourgeoisie (this is of particular importance!), go over to the latter’s camp, betray socialism, damage the workers’ cause, and attempt to ruin it. In every crisis the bourgeoisie will always aid the opportunists, will always try to suppress the revolutionary section of the proletariat, stopping short of nothing and employing the most unlawful and savage military measures. The opportunists are bourgeois enemies of the proletarian revolution, who in peaceful times carry on their bourgeois work in secret, concealing themselves within the workers’ parties, while in times of crisis they immediately prove to be open allies of the entire united bourgeoisie, from the conservative to the most radical and democratic part of the latter, from the free thinkers, to the religious and clerical sections. Anyone who has failed to understand this truth after the events we have gone through is hopelessly deceiving both himself and the workers. Individual desertions are inevitable under the present conditions, but their significance, it should be remembered, is determined by the existence of a section and current of petty-bourgeois opportunists. Such social-chauvinists, as Hyndman, Vandervelde, Guesde, Plekhanov and Kautsky, would be of no significance whatever if their spineless and banal speeches in defence of bourgeois patriotism were not taken up by the entire social strata of opportunists and by swarms of bourgeois papers and bourgeois politicians.

Typical of the socialist parties of the epoch of the Second International was one that tolerated in its midst an opportunism built up in decades of the “peaceful” period, an opportunism that kept itself secret, adapting itself to the revolutionary workers, borrowing their Marxist terminology, and evading any clear cleavage of principles. This type has outlived itself. If the war ends in 1915, will any thinking socialist be found willing to begin, in 1916, restoring the workers’ parties together with the opportunists, knowing from experience that in any new crisis all of them to a man (plus many other spineless and muddle-headed people) will be for the bourgeoisie, who will of course find a pretext to ban any talk of class hatred and the class struggle?

In Italy, the party was the exception for the period of the Second International; the opportunists, headed by Bissolati, were expelled from the party. In the present crisis, the results have proved excellent : people of various trends of opinion have not deceived the workers or blinded them with pearls of eloquence regarding “unity"; each of them followed his own road. The opportunists (and deserters from the workers’ party such as Mussolini) practised social-chauvinism, lauding (as Plekhanov did) “gallant Belgium”, thereby shielding the policies, not of a gallant, but of a bourgeois Italy, which would plunder the Ukraine and Galicia . . . I mean, Albania, Tunisia, etc., etc. Meanwhile, the socialists were waging against them a war against war, in preparation of a civil war. We are not at all idealising the Italian Socialist Party and in no way guarantee that it will stand firm should Italy enter the war. We are speaking not of the future of that party, but only of the present. We are stating the indisputable fact that the workers in most European countries have been deceived by the fictitious unity of the opportunists and the revolutionaries, Italy being the happy exception, a country where no such deception exists at present. What was a happy exception for the Second International should and shall become the rule for the Third International. While capitalism persists, the proletariat will always be a close neighbour to the petty bourgeoisie. It is sometimes unwise to reject temporary alliances with the latter, but unity with them, unity with the opportunists can be defended at present only by the enemies of the proletariat or by hoodwinked traditionalists of a bygone period.

Today, following 1914, unity of the proletarian struggle for the socialist revolution demands that the workers’ parties separate themselves completely from the parties of the opportunists. What we understand by opportunism has been clearly said in the Manifesto of the Central Committee (No. 33, “The War and Russian Social-Democracy[3] ).

But what do we see in Russia? Is it good or bad for the working-class movement of our country to have unity between people who, in one way or another and with more or   less consistency, are combating chauvinism—of both the Purishkevich and the Cadet brand—and people who echo that chauvinism, like Maslov, Plekhanov and Smirnov? Is it good to have unity between people engaged in anti-war action and such that declare that they will not oppose the war, like-the influential authors of “Document” (No. 34)[9]? Only those who wish to turn a blind eye to things will find difficulty in answering this question.

The objection may be made that Martov has polemised with Plekhanov in Golos and, together with a number of other friends and partisans of the Organising Committee, has battled against social-chauvinism. We do not deny this, and had words of praise for Martov in No. 33 of the Central Organ. We would be very glad if Martov were not “turned about”(see the article, “Martov Turns About”); we would very much like a decisive anti-chauvinist line to become the line of the Organising Committee. That, however, does not depend upon our wishes, or upon any one else’s. What are the objective facts? First, Larin, the Organising Committee’s official representative, is for some reason silent about Golos, while naming the social-chauvinist Plekhanov, and also Axelrod, who wrote an article (in Berner Tagwacht[10]) so as not to say a single definite word there. Moreover, Larin, apart from his official position, is more than geographically close to the influential central group of the liquidators in Russia. Secondly, there is the European press. In France and Germany, the papers are saying nothing about Golos, while speaking of Rubanovich, Plekhanov, and Chkheidze. (In its issue of December 12, Hamburger Echo, one of the most jingoist organs of the jingoist “Social-Democratic” press of Germany, called Chkheidze an adherent of Maslov and Plekhanov; this has also been hinted at by certain papers in Russia. It is clear that all fellow-thinkers of the Südekums fully appreciate the ideological aid Plekhanov has given to the Südekums.) In Russia, millions of copies of bourgeois papers have brought the “people” tidings of Maslov-Plekhanov-Smirnov—but no news of the trend represented by Golos. Thirdly, the experience of the legal workers’ press of 1912-14 has definitely proved that the source of a certain degree of social strength and influence enjoyed by the liquidationist movement lies, not in the working class, but in that   section of bourgeois-democratic intelligentsia, which has brought the central group of legalist writers to the fore. The national-chauvinist temper of this section as a section is testified to by the entire press of Russia, as revealed in the letters of the Petrograd worker (Sotsial-Demokrat Nos. 33 and 35) and in the “Document”(No. 34). Considerable personal re-groupings within that section are quite possible, but it is absolutely improbable that, as a section, it should not be “patriotic” and opportunist.

Such are the objective facts. Since we take them into account and are aware that it is to the advantage of all bourgeois parties that wish for influence over the workers, to have a Left wing for display (particularly when that wing is unofficial), we must declare the idea of unity with the Organising Committee an illusion detrimental to the workers’ cause.

The policy of the Organising Committee who, in far-away Sweden, on November 23, proclaimed their unity with Plekhanov and spoke words sweet to the hearts of all social-chauvinists, while in Paris and in Switzerland they did not bother to make their existence known either on September 13 (when Golos appeared) or on November 23 or to this day (December 23), strongly resembles political chicanery of the worst kind. The hope that Otkliki,[11] scheduled to appear in Zurich, would be of an official Party nature has been destroyed by a forthright statement in Berner Tagwacht (December 12), to the effect that this paper will not be of such a nature. (Incidentally, the editors of Golos declared in issue No. 52 that to continue at present the rift with the liquidators would be “nationalism” of the worst kind. This phrase, which is devoid of grammatical meaning, has only political meaning that the editors of Golos prefer having unity with the social-chauvinists to drawing closer to those who are irreconcilably hostile to social-chauvinism. The editors of Golos have made a bad choice.)

To make the picture complete, it remains for us to add a few words about Mysl,[12] organ of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, which is published in Paris. This paper also lauds “unity”, while it shields (cf. Sotsial-Demokrat No. 34) the social-chauvinism of Rubanovich, its party leader, defends the Franco-Belgian opportunists and ministerialists, says   nothing of the patriotic motives of the speech by Kerensky, one of the extreme radicals among the Russian Trudoviks,[13] and prints well-worn petty-bourgeois vulgarities on the revision of Marxism, in a Narodnik and opportunist spirit. What the resolution of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party’s summer conference of 1913[14] said of the Socialist-Revolutionaries has been fully and particularly proved by this behaviour of Mysl.

Some Russian socialists seem to think that internationalism consists in a readiness to welcome a resolution containing an international vindication of social-chauvinism in all countries, such as is to be drawn up by Plekhanov and Südekum, Kautsky and Hervé, Guesde and Hyndman, Vandervelde and Bissolati, etc. We permit ourselves the thought that internationalism consists only in an unequivocal internationalist policy within one’s party. A genuinely proletarian internationalist policy cannot be pursued, active opposition to the war cannot be preached, and forces for such action cannot be mustered while we are in the company of the opportunists and the social-chauvinists. To find refuge in silence, or to wave this truth aside which, though bitter, is necessary to the socialist, is detrimental and ruinous to the working-class movement.


[1] See pp. 115-17 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Plekhanov’s pamphlet, On the War (Paris, 1914), which we have just received, confirms very convincingly the truth of the assertions made in the text. We shall return to this pamphlet later on. —Lenin

[3] See pp. 25–34 of this volume.—Ed.

[4] The Bolshevik deputies to the Fourth Duma were arrested on the night of November 5-6 (18-19),1914. The pretext for their arrest was their participation in a conference they convened in the village of Ozerki, near Petrograd.

Held on November 2-4 (15-17), the conference was attended by representatives of the Bolshevik organisations of Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Kharkov and Riga, as well as by the Duma Bolshevik deputies.

Warned by an agent provocateur the police swooped down on Ozerki when the conference had just completed its work. During the search of G. I. Petrovsky, A. Y. Badayev and other Duma Bolshevik deputies, the police found Lenin’s theses on the war and the newspaper Sotsial-Demokrat No. 33, which carried the manifesto of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. “The War and Russian Social-Democracy”. All participants in the conference were arrested, but the Duma Bolshevik deputies, who enjoyed parliamentary immunity, escaped arrest. Two days later, however, they too were arrested, tried and exiled for life to Eastern Siberia. Lenin devoted to the trial of the Bolshevik deputies the article “What Has Been Revealed by the Trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Duma Group” , which was published in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 40, March 29, 1915 (see this volume, pp. 171-77).

[5] The Congress of the Swedish Social-Democratic Party was held in Stockholm on November 23,1914. The main item on the agenda dealt with the attitude towards the war. A. G. Shlyapnikov, who brought the Congress a message of greetings from the R.S.D.L.P’s Central Committee, read a declaration calling for a struggle to be waged against the imperialist war and branding the treachery of the leaders of the German Social-Democrats and the socialist parties of other countries, who had turned social-chauvinist. Branting, leader of the Swedish Social-Democratic Party’s Right wing, moved that regret be expressed at the section of the declaration condemning the conduct of German Social-Democracy, asserting that “it does not befit” the Congress “to reprehend other parties”. Höglund, leader of the Left Social-Democrats, came out against Branting’s proposal, and declared that many Swedish Social-Democrats shared the view expressed in the declaration of the R.S.D.L.P.’s Central Committee. However, Branting’s proposal was carried by a majority of votes. Y. Larin addressed the Congress on behalf of the Menshevik Organising Committee. A report on the Congress was published in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 36, January 9, 1915.

[6] The Organizing Committee—the Menshevik guiding centre, was established at a conference of the Menshevik liquidators and all anti-Party groups and trends, held in August 1912. It existed until the election of the Central Committee of the Menshevik party in August 1917.

Belenin—A. G. Shlyapnikov.

[7] Sotsial-Demokrat—Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P., published illegally from February 1908 to January 1917. In all, 58 issues appeared. The first issue was published in Russia, and the rest abroad, first in Paris and then in Geneva. According to the decision of the R.S.D.L.P.’s Central Committee, the editorial board was composed of representatives of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Polish Social-Democrats.

The newspaper published over 80 articles and items by Lenin. While on the editorial board, Lenin maintained a consistent Bolshevik stand. Some editors (including Kamenev and Zinoviev) took a conciliatory attitude towards the liquidators and tried to disrupt Lenin’s line. The Menshevik editors Martov and Dan sabotaged the work of the editorial board and openly defended liquidationism in their factional newspaper Golos Sotsial-Demokrata.

Because of Lenin’s uncompromising struggle against the liquidators Martov and Dan walked out of the editorial board, in June 1911. Beginning with December 1911 Lenin became editor of Sotsial-Demokrat.

[8] Lenin is referring to the Caucasian Menshevik liquidators, the Bund (The General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia), and representatives of the Social-Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania, who supported the liquidators.

[9] The reference is to the reply of the St. Petersburg liquidators (Potresov, Maslov, Cherevanin and others) to Vandervelde’s telegram urging Russian Social-Democrats to abstain from opposing the war. In their reply, the Russian liquidators approved Belgian, French and English socialists joining bourgeois governments, and declared that in their activities in Russia they were not opposed to the war.

[10] Berner Tagwacht—a daily newspaper, organ of the Swiss Social-Democratic Party, founded in Berne in 1893. In the early days of the First World War, it published articles by Karl Liebknecht Franz Mehring and other Left Social-Democrats. Following 1917 the newspaper openly supported social-chauvinists.

Today the newspaper’s line coincides on the main issues with that of the bourgeois press.

[11] The Menshevik Organising Committee announced the forthcoming publication of its organ Otkliki (Echoes ), which, however, never appeared.

[12] Mysl(Thought )—a daily Socialist-Revolutionary newspaper published in Paris from November 1914 to March 1915.

[13] Trudoviks—a group of petty-bourgeois democrats in the State Duma consisting of peasants and intellectuals of a Narodnik trend. The Trudovik group was formed in April 1906 of peasant deputies   to the First Duma. In the Duma the Trudoviks vacillated between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats.

During the First World War, most of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists and Trudoviks took a social-chauvinist stand.

[14] Lenin is referring to the resolution “The Narodniks” which he wrote and which was adopted by the joint Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee and Party officials held between September 23 and October 1 (October 6-14), 1913, in the village of Poronin (near Cracow). For reasons of secrecy, the conference was called the “Summer” or “August” Conference. See the resolution in Volume 19 of the present edition, pp. 429-31.

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