V. I.   Lenin

The Main German Opportunist Work on the War

Written: Written in June–July 1915
Published: First published Pravda No. 169, July 27, 1924. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 270-274.
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.
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Eduard David’s book Die Sozialdemoleratie im Wellkrieg (Vorwärts Publishers, Berlin, 1915) provides a good collection of facts and arguments on the tactics pursued by the official German Social-Democratic Party in the present war. Those who follow opportunist literature and that of the German Social-Democrats in general will find nothing new in this book. It is, however, quite useful, and not only for purposes of reference. Anyone who would gain a deeper insight into the historic collapse of German Social-Democracy, anyone who really wishes to understand the reasons why a leading Social-Democratic party has “suddenly” (allgedly all of a sudden) become a party of lackeys of the German bourgeoisie and the Junkers, anyone who wishes to inquire into the meaning of the commonplace sophisms which serve, to justify or conceal that collapse, will find David’s dull hook far from tedious. As a matter of fact, there is an integral quality in David’s opinions; he has the conviction of a liberal-labour politician, something that is entirely missing in the works of Kautsky, for instance, that hypocrite who trims his sails to the wind.

David is an opportunist through and through, a contributor of long standing to Sozialistische Monatshefte —the German counterpart of Nashe Dyelo; be is the author of a big volume on the agrarian question, which contains not even a grain of socialism or Marxism. The very fact that a person like this, whose entire life has been devoted to corrupting the working-class movement in the bourgeois spirit, has become one of many just as opportunist party leaders, a Deputy, and even a member of the Executive (Vorstand)   of the German Social-Democratic parliamentary party, is a serious enough indication of the extent, depth and violence of the process of putrefaction within the German Social-Democracy.

David’s book is of no scientific value whatever, since the author cannot or will not even pose the question of how the principal classes of present-day society have for decades been preparing, encouraging and building up their present attitude towards the war, this through definite politics that stem from definite class interests. Even the thought that, without an examination like the one just mentioned, no Marxist attitude towards the war can exist, and that only an examination such as this can provide the basis for a study of the ideology of the various classes in their attitude towards the war, is entirely alien to David. He is an advocate of a liberal-labour policy, who adapts all his exposition and all his arguments to the task of influencing working-class audiences, concealing from thorn the weak points in his stand, making liberal tactics acceptable to them, and stifling proletarian revolutionary instincts with the aid of the greatest possible number of authoritative examples from ‘The Socialists’ Tactics in the West-European States” (Chapter 7 in David’s book), etc., etc.

From the ideological standpoint David’s book is therefore interesting only inasmuch as it provides an opportunity to analyse how the bourgeoisie should speak to the workers in order to influence them. The essence of Eduard David’s ideological stand, considered from this angle, the only correct one, is contained in the following proposition: “The significance of our vote [for war creditslWe voted, not for war but against defeat” (p. 3, table of contents, and many passages in the book). This is the theme of the entire book. To back this main thesis, David has hand-picked examples of the way Marx, Engels and Lassalle regarded Germany’s national wars (Chapter 2), data on the Triple Entente’s vast plans of conquest (Chapter 4), as well as facts from the diplomatic history of the war (Chapter 5), the latter being nothing more than an attempt to whitewash Germany by referring to the ridiculously trivial and no less ridiculously insincere official exchange of telegrams on the eve of the war, etc. A special chapter (6) entitled “The Magnitude of   the Danger” contains considerations and figures on the Triple Entente’s preponderance of might, the reactionary nature of tsarism, etc. Of course, David is fully in favour of peace. The preface to the book, dated May 1, 1915, winds up with the slogan, “Peace on Earth!” David, of course, considers himself an internationalist: the German Social-Democratic Party, he says, “has not betrayed the spirit of the International” (p. 8); it has “fought against the sowing of poisonous hatred among the peoples” (p. 8); it “has declared since the very first day of the war that in principle it is ready for peace as soon as the security of the country has been achieved” (p. 8).

David’s book strikingly reveals that, to influence the workers and the masses in general, the liberal bourgeoisie (and their agents in the labour movement, i. e., the opportunists) are prepared to swear allegiance to internationalism any number of times, accept the peace slogan, renounce the annxationist aims of the war, condemn chauvinism, and so on and so forth anything except revolutionary action against their own government, anything in the world, if only they can come out “against defeat”. In point of fact, this ideology, in terms of mathematics, is both necessary and sufficient to fool the workers. One cannot offer them less because the masses cannot be rallied unless they are promised a just peace, and scared with the danger of invasion, and unless allegiance to internationalism is sworn to; one need not offer them more because all that is “more”, i. e., the seizure of colonies, the annexation of foreign territories, the pillaging of conquered countries, the conclusion of advantageous trade agreements, etc., will be effected, not directly by the liberal bourgeoisie, but by the imperialist—militarist governmental war clique after the war.

The roles are well distributed; while the government and the military clique—with the suppoit of the multi-millionaires and all bourgeois “men of affairs"—are waging the war, the liberals console and dupe the masses with the nationalist ideology of a defensive war, with promises of a democratic peace, etc. Eduard David’s ideology is that of the liberal and humanitarian pacifist bourgeois; so is the ideology of the Russian opportunists in the Organising Committee, who are waging a struggle against the desirability   of defeat, against the disintegration of Russia, for the peace slogan, etc.

A non-liberal brand of tactics, one that differs in principle from the above, begins with the onset of a decisive break with any attempts to justify participation in the war, with the practical conduct of a policy of propaganda and preparation for revolutionary action, in wartime and with the full exploitation of wartime difficulties, against the respective governments. David does approach this borderline, the real line between bourgeois and proletarian politics, but he approaches it only with the purpose of glossing over an unpleasant subject. He mentions the Basle Manifesto several times, but he carefully steers clear of all its revolutionary passages; he recalls how Vaillant appealed in Basic “for a military strike and social revolution” (p. 119), but does so only to defend himself by using the example of the chauvinist Vaillant, not in order to cite and analyse the revolutionary directives of the resolution of the Basle Congress.

David quotes a considerable portion of our Central Committee’s Manifesto, including its main slogan—the conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war—but he does it only to declare that these “Russian” tactics are nothing short of “madness” and “gross distortion of the decisions of the International” (pp. 169, 172). This, he says, is Hervéism (p. 176); Hervé’s book, he says “contains the whole theory of Lenin, Luxemburg, Radek, Pannekoek, etc.” But, my dear David, is not there some Hervéism in the revolutionary passages of the Basic resolution and the Communist Manifesto? The mention of the latter document is just as unpleasant to David as the name of our journal, which is reminiscent of that very document, is unpleasant to Semkovsky. The thesis of the CommunistManifesto to the effect that “the workingmen have no country” has, as David is convinced, “long been disproved” (p. 176 if.). As to the question of nationalities, the entire concluding chapter of David’s book offers us the most unmitigated bourgeois nonsense about the “biological law of differentiation” (!), etc.

What is international is not at all anti-national; we stand for the right of nations to self-assertion; we are   against the browbeating of weak nations, David asserts, failing to understand (or rather pretending not to understand) that justifying participation in the imperialist war and advancing the “against defeat” slogan in this war means acting, not only as an anti-socialist, but also as an anti-national politician. For the present-day imperialist war is a war between Great Powers (i.e., powers that oppress a number of other nations), conducted for the purpose of oppressing new nations. One cannot he “national” in an imperialist war otherwise than by being a socialist politician, i.e., by recognising the right of oppressed nations to liberation, to secession from the Great Powers that oppress them. In the era of imperialism, there can be no other salvation for most of the world’s nations than through revolutionary action undertaken by the proletariat of the Great Powers, spreading beyond the boundaries of nationality, smashing those boundaries, and overthrowing the international bourgeoisie. Until the bourgeoisie is overthrown, there will remain nations known as “Great Powers”, i.e., the oppression will remain of nine-tenths of the nations of the whole world. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie will enormously accelerate the downfall of national partitions of every kind, this without decreasing but, on the contrary, increasing a millionfold the “differentiation” of humanity, in the meaning of the wealth and the variety in spiritual life, ideological trends, tendencies, and shades.


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