V. I.   Lenin

The First Step

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 45–46, October 11, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 383-388.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2003 (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.

The development of the international socialist movement is slow during the tremendous crisis created by the war. Yet it is moving towards a break with opportunism and social-chauvinism, as was clearly shown by the International Socialist Conference held at Zimmerwald, Switzerland, between September 5 and 8, 1915.

For a whole year, the socialists of the warring and the neutral countries vacillated and temporised. Afraid to admit to themselves the gravity of the crisis, they did not wish to look reality in the face, and kept deferring in a thousand ways the inevitable break with the opportunism and Kautskyism prevalent in the official parties of Western Europe.

However, the analysis of events which we gave a year ago in the Manifesto of the Central Committee (Sotsial Demokrat No. 33)[1] has proved correct; the events have borne out its correctness. They took a course that resulted in the first International Socialist Conference being attended by representatives of the protesting elements of the minorities in Germany, France, Sweden, and Norway, who acted against the decisions of the official parties, i.e., in fact acted schismatically.

The work of the Conference was summed up in a manifesto and a resolution expressing sympathy with the arrested and the persecuted. Both documents appear in this issue of Sotsial-Demokrat. By nineteen votes to twelve, the Conference refused to submit to a committee the draft resolution proposed by us and other revolutionary Marxists;   our draft manifesto was passed on to the committee together with two others, for a joint manifesto to be drawn up. The reader will find elsewhere in this issue our two drafts; a comparison of the latter with the manifesto adopted clearly shows that a number of fundamental ideas of revolutionary Marxism were adopted.

In practice, the manifesto signifies a step towards an ideological and practical break with opportunism and social-chauvinism. At the same time, the manifesto, as any analysis will show, contains inconsistencies, and does not say everything that should be said.

The manifesto calls the war imperialist and emphasises two features of imperialism: the striving of the capitalists of every nation for profits and the exploitation of others, and the striving of the Great Powers to partition the world and “enslave” weaker nations. The manifesto repeats the most essential things that should be said of the imperialist nature of the war, and were said in our resolution. In this respect, the manifesto merely popularises our resolution. Popularisation is undoubtedly a useful thing. However, if we want clear thinking in the working class and attach importance to systematic and unflagging propaganda, we must accurately and fully define the principles to be popularised. If that is not done, we risk repeating the error, the fault of the Second International which led to its collapse, viz., we shall be leaving room for ambiguity and misinterpretations. Is it, for instance, possible to deny the signal importance of the idea, expressed in our resolution, that the objective conditions are mature for socialism? The “popular” exposition of the manifesto omitted this idea; failure has attended the attempt to combine, in one document, a clear and precise resolution based on principle, and an appeal.

The capitalists of all countries ... claim that the war serves to defend the fatherland.... They are lying...”, the manifesto continues. Here again, this forthright statement that the fundamental idea of opportunism in the present war—the “defence-of-the-fatherland” idea—is a lie, is a repetition of the kernel of the revolutionary Marxists’ resolution. Again, the manifesto regrettably fails to say everything that should be said; it is half-hearted, afraid to   speak the whole truth. After a year of war, who today is not aware of the actual damage caused to socialism, not only by the capitalist press repeating and endorsing the capitalists’ lies (it is its business as a capitalist press to repeat the capitalists’ lies), but also by the greater part of the socialist press doing so? Who does not know that European socialism’s greatest crisis has been brought about not by the “capitalists’ lies”, but by the lies of Guesde, Hyndman, Vandervelde, Plekhanov and Kautsky ? Who does not know that the lies spoken by such leaders suddenly revealed all the strength of the opportunism that swept them away at the decisive moment?

Let us take a look at what has come about: To make the masses see things in a clearer light, the manifesto says that in the present war the defence of the fatherland idea is a capitalist lie. The European masses, however, are not illiterate, and almost all who have read the manifesto have heard, and still hear that same lie from hundreds of socialist papers, journals, and pamphlets, echoing them after Plekhanov, Hyndman, Kautsky and Co. What will the readers of the manifesto think? What thoughts will arise in them after this display of timidity by the authors of the manifesto? Disregard the capitalists’ lie about the defence of the fatherland, the manifesto tells the workers. Well and good. Practically all of them will say or think: the capitalists’ lie has long stopped bothering us, but the lie of Kautsky and Co. ...

The manifesto goes on to repeat another important idea in our resolution, viz., that the socialist parties and the workers’ organisations of the various countries “have flouted obligations stemming from the decisions of the Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Basle congresses”; that the International Socialist Bureau too has failed to do its duty ; that this failure to do its duty consisted in voting for war credits, joining governments, recognising “a class truce” (submission to which the manifesto calls slavish ; in other words, it accuses Guesde, Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co. of substituting for propaganda of socialism the propaganda of slavish ideas).

Is it consistent, we shall ask, to speak, in a “popular” manifesto, of the failure of a number of parties to do their   duty (it is common knowledge that the reference is to the strongest parties and the workers’ organisations in the most advanced countries: Britain, France and Germany), without giving any explanation of this startling and unprecedented fact? The greater part of the socialist parties and the International Socialist Bureau itself have failed to do their duty! What is this—an accident and the failure of individuals, or the turning-point of an entire epoch? If it is the former, and we circulate that idea among the masses, it is tantamount to our renouncing the fundamentals of socialist doctrine. If it is the latter, how can we fail to say so forthright? We are facing a moment of historic significance—the collapse of the International as a whole, a turning point of an entire epoch—and yet we are afraid to tell the masses that the whole truth must be sought for and found, and that we must do our thinking to the very end. It is preposterous and ridiculous to suppose that the International Socialist Bureau and a number of parties could have collapsed, without linking up this event with the long history of the origin, the growth, the maturing and over-maturity of the general European opportunist movement, with its deep economic roots—deep, not in the sense that it is intimately linked with the masses, but in the sense that it is connected with a certain stratum of society.

Passing on to the “struggle for peace”, the manifesto states that: “This struggle is a struggle for freedom, the brotherhood of peoples, and socialism”. It goes on to explain that in wartime the workers make sacrifices “in the service of the ruling classes”, whereas they must learn to make sacrifices “for their own cause” (doubly underscored in the manifesto), “for the sacred aims of socialism”. The resolution which expresses sympathy with arrested and persecuted fighters says that “the Conference solemnly undertakes to honour the living and the dead by emulating their example” and that its aim will be to “arouse the revolutionary spirit in the international proletariat”.

All these ideas are a reiteration of our resolution’s fundamental idea that a struggle for peace without a revolutionary struggle is a hollow and false phrase, and that a revolutionary struggle for socialism is the only way to put an end to the horror of war. But here too we find inconsistency,   timidity, and a failure to say everything that ought to be said: it calls upon the masses to emulate the example of the revolutionary fighters; it declares that the five members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Duma group who have been sentenced to exile in Siberia have carried on “the glorious revolutionary tradition of Russia”; it proclaims the necessity of “arousing the revolutionary spirit”, but it does not specify forthright and clearly the revolutionary methods of struggle.

Was our Central Committee right in signing this manifesto, with all its inconsistency and timidity? We think it was. Our non-agreement, the non-agreement, not only of our Central Committee but of the entire international Left-wing section of the Conference, which stands by the principles of revolutionary Marxism, is openly expressed both in a special resolution, a separate draft manifesto, and a separate declaration on the vote for a compromise manifesto. We did not conceal a jot of our views, slogans, or tactics. A German edition of our pamphlet, Socialism and War[2] was handed out at the Conference. We have spread, are spreading, and shall continue to spread our views with no less energy than the manifesto will. It is a fact that this manifesto is a step forward towards a real struggle against opportunism, towards a rupture with it. It would be sectarianism to refuse to take this step forward together with the minority of German, French, Swedish, Norwegian, and Swiss socialists, when we retain full freedom and full opportunity to criticise inconsistency and to work for greater things.[3] It would be poor war tactics to refuse to adhere to the mounting international protest movement against social-chauvinism just because this movement is slow, because it takes “only” a single step forward and because it is ready and willing to take a step backward tomorrow   and make peace with the old International Socialist Bureau. Its readiness to make peace with the opportunists is so far merely wishful thinking. Will the opportunists agree to a peace? Is peace objectively possible between trends that are dividing more and more deeply—social-chauvinism and Kautskyism on the one hand, and on the other, revolutionary internationalist Marxism? We consider it impossible, and we shall continue our line, encouraged as we are by its success at the Conference of September 5-8.

The success of our line is beyond doubt. Compare the facts: In September 1914, our Central Committee’s Manifesto seemed almost isolated. In March 1915, an international women’s conference adopted a miserable pacifist resolution, which was blindly followed by the Organising Committee. In September 1915, we rallied in a whole group of the international Left wing. We came out with our own tactics, voiced a number of our fundamental ideas in a joint manifesto, and took part in the formation of an I.S.C. (International Socialist Committee), i.e., a practically new International Socialist Bureau, against the wishes of the old one, and on the basis of a manifesto that openly condemns the tactics of the latter.

The workers of Russia, whose overwhelming majority followed our Party and its Central Committee even in the years 1912-14, will now, from the experience of the international socialist movement, see that our tactics are being confirmed in a wider area, and that our fundamental ideas are shared by an ever growing and finer part of the proletarian International.


[1] See pp. 25–34 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See pp. 295–338 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] We are not frightened by the fact that the Organising Committee and the Social-Revolutionaries signed the manifesto diplomatically, retaining all their links with—and all their attachment to Nasha Zarya, Rubanovich, and the July 1915 Conference of the Popular Socialists and the Social-Revolutionaries in Russia.[4] We have means enough to combat corrupt diplomacy and unmask it. It is more and more unmasking itself. Nasha Zarya and Chkheidze’s group are helping us unmask Axelrod and Co. —Lenin

[4] The Conference of the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia met in July 1915 in Petrograd. The Conference discussed the question of the attitude towards the war and adopted a resolution which called for active participation in the war on the side of tsarism.

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