V. I.   Lenin

The Social-Chauvinists’ Sophisms

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 41, May 1, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 183-187.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
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Nashe Dyelo (No. 1, 1915), which is published in Petrograd by the liquidators, is bringing out a translation of Internationalism and War, a pamphlet by Kautsky. At the same time, Mr. A. Potresov says he does not agree with Kautsky who; in his opinion, acts now like an “advocate” (i.e., a pleader for German social-chauvinism, who denies recognition of the Franco-Russian brand of the species), now like a “judge” (i.e., a Marxist who tries to apply the Marxist method without prejudice).

In actual fact, both Mr. A. Potresov and Kautsky have betrayed Marxism in the main issues, defending as they do national liberal-labour policies, by using obvious sophisms. Mr. A. Potresov is distracting his readers’ attention from the fundamentals, while arguing with Kautsky over details. According to Mr. Potresov, the “solution” of the problem of the attitude of the British and the French “democracies” towards the war (the author is referring to working-class democracy) is “on the whole a good solution” (p. 69); these democracies, he says, “have acted correctly”, although their solution has been, not so conscious as “in accord with a national solution, through a happy coincidence”.

The meaning of these words is clear. Under Anglo-French cover, Mr. A. Potresov, is defending Russian chauvinism, and justifying the patriotic tactics used by the socialists of the Triple Entente. Mr. Potresov argues against Kautsky, not in the way a Marxist should argue against a chauvinist, but like a Russian chauvinist against a German counterpart. This is an old and threadbare method; it should, however, be noted that Mr. A. Potresov disguises and confuses in every possible way the clear and simple import of his words.

Itle points on which Mr. A. Potresov and Kautsky agree are the gist of the matter. For instance, they agree that: “the present-day proletariat’s internationalism is compatible with defence of country” (K. Kautsky, p. 34 in the German edition of his pamphlet). Mr. A. Potresov speaks of the special situation of a country “that has been subjected to an attack”. “The people fear nothing more than an enemy invasion...”, Kautsky writes. “If the inhabitants of a country see the cause of war, not in their own government, but in the evil designs of a neighbouring state-and what government does not attempt to inculcate such a view upon the masses through the press, etc.!—then... the unanimous desire to defend the borders against the enemy flares up in the entire population .... The infuriated mob would kill those who would attempt to hamper the dispatch of armies to the borders” (K. Kautsky, p. 33 in the article of 1911).

This is a would-be Marxist defence of the fundamental idea of all social-chauvinists.

As early as 1911, Kautsky saw very clearly that the government (and the bourgeoisie) would deceive “the people, the population, the mob” by placing the blame on the “evil designs” of another country. The question arises whether support for such deception-whether by voting for war credits or by speeches, articles, etc.-is compatible with internationalism and socialism, or whether it is tantamount to a national liberal-labour policy! Kautsky is behaving like a most shameless “advocate”, like the worst kind of sophist, when he substitutes for this question another one, namely, whether it is reasonable for “individuals” to “hamper the dispatch of armies”, in the teeth of the will of the majority of a people that have been deceived by their government. That is not the point at issue. That is not the gist of the matter. Deceived petty bourgeois must be dissuaded, and the deception made clear to them. It is sometimes necessary to go with them to the battleground and be able to wait until they have been sobered by the experience of war. Not this is under discussion but the question whether it is permissible for socialists to participate in the bourgeoisie’s deception of the “people”. Kautsky and Potresov justify such deception, though they know perfectly well that the guilt for the imperialist war of 1914 falls equally on   the “evil designs” of the governments and the bourgeoisie of all the “Great” Powers-Britain and France, Germany and Russia. This is clearly stated, for instance, in the Basle resolution of 1912.

There can he no doubt that the “people”, i.e., the mass of petty bourgeois and part of the deceived workers, believe in the bourgeois fable of the enemy’s “evil designs”. Yet it is the duty of Social-Democrats to combat this deception, not support it. Long before the war, all Social-Democrats in all countries said that any Great Power strives in fact to build up and extend its domination over the colonies, oppress small nations, etc. This was reiterated at Basle. The war is being waged for the partitioning of colonies and for the plunder of other lands; thieves have fallen out, and i is a brazen bourgeois lie to claim that, at this particular moment, some thief is getting the worse of it; to do so is to present the thieves’ interests as those of the people or the fatherland. We must speak the truth to the “people”, who are suffering from the war; that truth is that no defence can be put up against sufferings of wartime unless the government and the bourgeoisie of every belligerent country are overthrown. To defend Belgium by means of throttling Galicia or Hungary is no “defence of the fatherland”.

However, Marx himself, who condemned wars, as, for instance, in 1854-76, took sides with one of the belligerents when, despite the will of the socialists, wat had become a fact. That is the main contention and the chief trump card in Kautsky’s pamphlet. It is also the stand of Mr. Potresov, who by “internationalism” understands finding out the success of which side in the war is more desirable or less harmful from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat, not in a particular country but the world over. The war, he says, is being conducted by governments and the bourgeoisie; it is for the proletariat to decide which government’s victory presents the least danger to the workers of the world.

The sophistry of this reasoning consists in a bygone period of history being substituted for the present. The following were the main features of the old wars referred to by Kautsky: (1) they dealt with the problems of bourgeois-democratic reforms and the overthrow of absolutism or foreign oppression; (2) the objective prerequisites for a socialist revolution had   not yet matured, and prior to the war, no socialist could speak of utilising it to “hasten the downfall of capitalism”, as the Stuttgart (1907) and Basle (1912) resolutions do; (3) in the countries of neither of the belligerent groups were there any socialist parties of any strength or mass appeal, and tested in the struggle.

In short, it is not surprising that Marx and the Marxists confined themselves to determining which bourgeoisie’s victory would be more harmless to (or more favourable to) the world proletariat, at a time when one could not speak of a general proletarian movement against the governments and the bourgeoisie of all the belligerent countries.

Long before the war and for the first time in world history, the socialists of all the countries now engaged in hostilities gathered together and declared that they would make use of the war “to hasten the downfall of capitalism” (the Stuttgart resolution, 1907). In other words, they recognised that objective conditions had matured for that “hastening of the downfall”, i. e., for a socialist revolution. That is to say, they threatened the governments with a revolution. In Basle (1912) they said the same thing in still clearer terms, referring to the Commune and to October-December 1906,[1] i. e., civil war.

When war broke out, the socialists who had threatened the governments with revolution and had called upon the proletariat to bring about that revolution began to refer to what had happened half a century before, and today are justifying socialist support for the governments and the bourgeoisie! The Marxist Gorter is absolutely right in comparing, in his Dutch brochure, Imperialism, the World War and Social-Democracy (p. 84), “radicals” of the Kautsky type with the liberals of 1848, who were courageous in word and traitors in deed.

For decades, a conflict between revolutionary Social-Democratic and the opportunist elements was developing within European socialism. The crisis has come to a head. The abscess has burst as a result of the war. Most official parties have yielded to the national liberal-labour politicians, who defend the privileges of their “own” bourgeoisie, and the latter’s privilege to possess colonies, oppress small nations, etc. Both Kautsky and Potresov defend and justify   the national liberal-labour policy instead of exposing it to the proletariat. That is the essence of the social-chauvinists’ sophisms.

Mr. A. Potresov has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag by his assertion that “the Stuttgart formula was untenable in principle” (p. 79). What of that? To the proletariat, open renegades are better than covert ones. Carry on, Mr. A. Potresov; to repudiate Stuttgart and Basle is the more honest course.

Kautsky, the diplomat, is more wily than Mr. A. Potresoy; he does not repudiate Stuttgart and Basle, He merely—“merely”!—quotes the Basic Manifesto, omitting all references to revolution! Can it he that the censor has been using his blue pencil oi both Potresov and Kautsky? Potresov and Kautsky seem ready to speak of revolution when that is permitted by the censor.

Let us hope that Potresov, Kautsky and their adherents will propose that the Stuttgart and the Basle resolutions he replaced by something like the following: “Should war break out despite our efforts, we must decide, from the standpoint of the world proletariat, what is most to its advantage: that India be plundered by Britain or by Germany; that the Negroes of Africa be taught the use of “firewater” and pillaged by the French or by the Germans; that Turkey be oppressed by the Austro-Germans or by the AngloFranco-Russian alliance; that the Germans should throttle Belgium or the Russians, Galicia; that China be partitioned by the Japanese or by the Americans”, etc.


[1] This refers to the October all-Russia political strike and the December armed uprising in Moscow, in 1905.

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