V. I. Lenin

The Second International Socialist Conference at Kienthal{7}

APRIL 11–17 (24–30), 1916

Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 41, pages 369-380.1.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.  




Proposal from the R.S.D.L.P. C.C. to the Second Socialist Conference Called by the I.S.C. (Berne){1} {8}
(Theses on Points 5, 6, 7a and 7b and 8 of the Agenda)

In announcing the convocation of the Second International Socialist Conference, the I.S.C. published the following key points of the agenda:

  1. 5. “struggle to end the war”
  2. 6. “problems of peace”
  3. 7a. parliamentary “action”
  4. 7b. mass [ditto]
  5. 8. International Socialist Bureau.
[7a. 7b.:]
}} “agitation and propaganda” }}

The I.S.C. has invited the organisations to discuss these questions and to send in their proposals. Here is the reply of our Party C.C. to the invitation:

1. Just as all war is but a continuation by violent means of the politics which the belligerent states and their ruling classes had been conducting for many years, sometimes for decades, before the outbreak of the war, so the peace that ends any war can be nothing but a consideration and a record of the actual changes brought about in the relations of forces as a result of the given war.

2. It is therefore the greatest absurdity and stupidity, from the standpoint of theory, and from the standpoint of socialist doctrine, and the greatest fraud on the working class in practice, to engage in talk about assessing the present war on the strength of “simple” concepts of defence and attack and about assessing the future peace on the strength of “simple” pious wishes for a stable, democratic, honourable, etc., peace.

3. This war is an imperialist war, i.e., a war resulting   from contradictions on the basis of a highly developed monopoly capitalism which is ripe for transition to socialism. This war is being fought for world hegemony, i.e., for fresh oppression of the weak nations, for another division of the world, for a division of the colonies, spheres of influence, etc.—a division under which the old plundering powers, Britain, France and Russia, would give up a share of their booty to Germany, a young and stronger plundering power.

4. That is why, unless the proletarian revolution overthrows the present governments and the present ruling classes of the belligerent “great” powers, there is a b s o l u t e l y no chance of a n y peace o t h e r than a more or less short-term armistice between the imperialist powers, a peace accompanied by a growth of reaction within the states, a growth of national oppression and enslavement of the weak nations, a growth of inflammable material preparatory for new wars, etc. For the fact is that from the objective content of the politics which has been bred by the entire epoch of imperialism and which the bourgeoisie of all the belligerent “great” powers had conducted before t h i s war and is conducting during i t, inevitably flows a peace resting on a new and even worse oppression of nations, etc.

5. To arouse in the masses of people ideas or hopes of the possibility of a stable or democratic, etc., peace between the present governments and the present ruling classes (i.e., the bourgeoisie allied with the landowners), as most of the official socialist parties are doing, is not only shamelessly to cheat the people but to lull them and distract them from the revolutionary struggle, which is already starting in the form of the strike and demonstration movement.

6. It is precisely this kind of cheating the people and distracting the proletariat from the revolutionary struggle that characterises the “peace programme” which is now being “unanimously” put forward both by the official spokesman of the Second International Huysmans at the Congress of the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiter Partei of Holland at Arnhem, and by Kautsky, the most influential theorist of the Second International and the most influential advocate of the social-patriots and social-chauvinists in all countries. Their programme consists in hypocritical   lip service to some democratic pious wishes: repudiation of annexations and indemnities, self-determination of nations, democratisation of foreign policy, arbitration courts to settle conflicts between states, disarmament, a United States of Europe, etc.

7. The best evidence that this “peace programme” is downright hypocrisy is, on the one hand, the lip service paid to it by a number of bourgeois pacifists and demagogic ministers of the belligerent countries, and, on the other, its duplication by notorious (notorisch) chauvinists at the conferences of “socialists” of one group of belligerent powers in London (February 1915){9} and of the other in Vienna (April 1915).{10} It is the “socialists” who have entered the bourgeois ministries carrying on the plunderous war, who have voted for the war credits, who have helped the war by participating in various organisations and institutions, etc., it is they who are a c t u a l l y conducting the policy of safeguarding the old and new annexations, colonial oppression, etc., that have proclaimed to the world their “peace programme”, consisting in a repudiation of annexations, etc.

8. Kautsky, the leading authority of the Second Inter national, declared to the whole world on May 21, 1915 (Neue Zeit) that this accord and “unanimity” of “socialists” in London{2} and in Vienna over the principle of “independence” or self-determination of nations is proof of the “unanimity” and “viability” of the Second International in the “peace programme”. This defence and sanction of the most crying and most brazen hypocrisy and deception of the workers is not in any sense a coincidence, but a systematic policy which is being conducted in a number of countries by men who pretend to be internationalists but are actually making the imperialist war more attractive by applying to it the idea of “defence of one’s country” and consolidating the domination of the working-class movement by the social-chauvinists, who have betrayed socialism, by preaching “unity” with them. This policy, which is the most harmful and dangerous one for the working class, is being conducted by Kautsky, Haase and others in Germany,   Longuet, Pressemane and others in France, most of the leaders in Britain, Axelrod, Martov, Chkheidze & Co. in Russia, Trèves and others in Italy (see the threat of the Central Organ of the Italian Party, Avanti!, on March 5, 1916, to expose Trèves and other reformist-possibilists{11} as to “who resorted to every means to prevent the Party Executive and Oddino Morgan from taking action to secure unity at Zimmerwald and to create a new International”). This world-wide policy, which is of the utmost danger to the working class, could be called a Kautskian policy, after its most authoritative spokesman.

9. Socialists cannot refuse to fight for reform. They must vote everywhere, including the parliaments, by the way, for all, even the slightest, improvements in the condition of the masses, such as increased relief for the inhabitants of the devastated areas, lessening of national oppression, etc. But on the basis of the p r e s e n t war and the peace flowing from it, this kind of reformist activity to improve the condition of the masses is apparently possible only on a miniature scale. It would be a crying deception of the masses to suggest to them, whether directly or indirectly, the idea that the questions raised by the p r e s e n t war could have a reformist solution. For t h i s war has created a revolutionary situation in Europe, bringing to the fore the most fundamental problems of imperialism, which will inevitably have an imperialist solution, except where the present governments and ruling classes of Europe are overthrown through revolution. That is why the principal and fundamental task of socialists in the struggle for stable and democratic peace must be: first, to explain to the masses the need for revolutionary mass struggle, to spread the idea of it systematically, and to set up the necessary organisations; second, to expose the hypocrisy and falsehood both of the bourgeois pacifist and of the socialist, notably Kautskian, talk about peace and the “unanimity” of the Second Inter national on the “peace programme”. Such talk is doubly hypocritical on the part of “socialists” who follow the bourgeoisie in denying the possibility of transforming the present imperialist war into a civil war for socialism, and who oppose any revolutionary work in that direction.

10. The central point of the currently prevalent hypocrisy   concerning the “peace programme” is the allegedly unanimous recognition of the struggle against old and new annexations. But those who talk of annexations and the struggle against them either cannot or will not for the most part give thought to what annexation is. Clearly, annexation will not be the right word for every appropriation of “foreign” territory, for, generally speaking, socialists favour the abolition of frontiers between nations, their getting closer together and integration, and the formation of larger states. Clearly, not every disturbance of the status quo can be described as annexation, for this would be extremely reactionary and a mockery of the fundamental concepts of the science of history. Clearly, annexation does not apply to every kind of integration by force of arms, for socialists cannot repudiate violence in the interests of the majority of the population and in the interests of human progress. Annexation can and must clearly apply only to the appropriation of a territory against the will of the population of that territory. In other words, the concept of annexation is inseparably bound up with the concept of self-determination of nations.

11. The present war—precisely because it is an imperialist war insofar as both groups of belligerent “great” powers are concerned—inevitably had to and did give rise to the phenomenon of the bourgeoisie and the social-chauvinists “fighting” violently against “annexations” w h e n e v e r this is done by an enemy state. S\"udekum and his Austro-German friends and defenders, including Haase and Kautsky, are silent about Germany’s annexations in respect of Alsace-Lorraine, Denmark, Poland, etc., but very frequently “struggle against the annexations” carried out by Russia in respect of Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, the Caucasus, etc., by Britain in respect of India, etc. On the other hand, the British, French, Italian and Russian S\"udekums, viz., Hyndman, Guesde, Vandervelde, Renaudel, Trèves, Plekhanov, Axelrod, Chkheidze & Co., are silent about Britain’s annexations in respect of India, France’s in respect of Nice or Morocco, Italy’s in respect of Tripoli or Albania, Russia’s in respect of Poland, the Ukraine etc., but then for the most part “struggle against the annexations” carried out by Germany.

This kind of “struggle against annexations” on the part of the social-chauvinists and the Kautskians is clearly downright hypocritical, and the bourgeoisie is promoting their struggle both directly, by allocating millions upon millions for chauvinist propaganda, and indirectly, by giving the social-chauvinists and the Kautskians a monopoly on legality.

The French “socialists”, who justify war over Alsace Lorraine, and the German “socialists”, who fail to demand freedom for Alsace-Lorraine to secede from Germany, are clearly both annexationists, no matter how much they swear to the contrary. The Russian “socialists”, who talk or write against the “disintegration of Russia” or now, directly or indirectly, justify the war over who is to enslave Poland, in the name of the “peace without annexations” slogan, are clearly annexationists as well, etc., etc.

12. If the “struggle against annexations” is not to become an empty phrase or a revolting hypocrisy, socialists must: f i r s t, explain to the masses that it is necessary to wage revolutionary struggle for the proletariat’s winning of political power and for a socialist revolution which stems from all the conditions of the imperialist epoch and the present imperialist war and which alone can fully secure the self-determination of nations everywhere, i.e., liberate the oppressed nations, bring the nations closer together and effect their fusion not on the basis of violence, but on the basis of equality and accord between the proletariat and the working people of all nations; s e c o n d, they must immediately start the most extensive propaganda and agitation against the veiled chauvinism and annexationism of the official socialist parties, especially of those of the “great” powers. Socialists must explain to the masses that a socialist and an internationalist only in name but a chauvinist and an annexationist in fact is the English socialist who fails at once to struggle for freedom to secede for Ireland, India, etc.—the French socialist who fails to struggle for the freedom of the French colonies, against the war to annex Alsace and Lorraine, etc.—the German socialist who fails to struggle for freedom to secede for Alsace Lorraine, the Danes, the Poles, the Belgians, the Serbs, etc.—the Russian socialist who fails to struggle for freedom   to secede for the Ukraine, Finland, etc., against the war over Poland—the Italian socialist who fails to struggle for freedom to secede for Tripoli, Albania, etc.—the Dutch socialist who fails to struggle for freedom to secede and independence for the Dutch East Indies—the Polish socialist who fails to struggle for the full freedom and equality of the Jews and the Ukrainians oppressed by the Poles, etc.

13. From the Zimmerwald Manifesto and the I.S.C. circular of February 10, 1916 (Bulletin No. 3){12} inevitably flows the proposition that all “war against war” and “struggle for peace” is hypocrisy unless it is indissolubly bound up with immediate revolutionary mass struggle, and with its propaganda and preparation. But this conclusion must be stated straightforwardly and explicitly. We must, first, explain to the masses where the development of revolutionary mass struggle in the conditions of a European war can and must (mull) lead. It leads inevitably to the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism. A hint of this is given in all the speeches saying that the workers should die for their own cause rather than an alien one. But hints are not enough. The great, even if perhaps not very near, goal must be clearly set before the masses. They must know where to go and why. Second, if we call on the masses to fight against their governments, “regard less of the military position of the given country”, we thereby not only repudiate the admissibility of “defending the country”, as a principle, in the present war, but admit the desirability of defeat for every bourgeois government in order to transform its defeat into revolution. That, too, must be squarely put: revolutionary mass struggle cannot become an international one unless its conscious representatives unite openly for the purpose of defeating and over throwing all bourgeois governments. Third—and this is the most important thing—it is impossible to conduct any revolutionary mass struggle without setting up everywhere, not only at the top, but also among the masses, an illegal organisation for its propaganda and preparation, and discussion of its course and conditions. Since there have been street demonstrations in Germany, since there have been a number of letters from the front-lines in France urging against subscription to the war loan, since there   have been mass strikes in Britain, to say nothing of Russia, then, to promote this struggle, to help consolidate it on an international scale, it is absolutely necessary to shed light on every step along that road in a free, i.e., illegal, press, to verify the successes, to weigh their conditions; to strengthen and develop the struggle. Without an illegal organisation and an illegal press, recognition of “mass action” will remain (as it has remained in Switzerland) an empty phrase.{3}

14. On the question of the socialists’ parliamentary action, it must be borne in mind that the Zimmerwald resolution not only expresses sympathy for the five Social-Democratic deputies of the Duma, who belong to our Party, and who have been sentenced to exile in Siberia, but also expresses its solidarity with their tactics. It is impossible to recognise the revolutionary struggle of the masses while being content with exclusively legal, exclusively reformist activity of socialists in parliament; this can only arouse legitimate dissatisfaction among the workers and cause them to desert Social-Democracy for anti-parliamentary anarchism or syndicalism. It must be stated clearly and publicly that Social-Democratic members of parliament must use their position not only to make speeches in parliament, but also to render all possible aid outside parliament to the underground organisation and the revolutionary struggle of the workers. and that the masses themselves, through their illegal organisation, must supervise the activity of their leaders.

15. The question of calling the International Socialist Bureau, placed on the agenda of the Second International Socialist Conference, which is being convened, inevitably raises a more fundamental question of principle, as to whether the old parties and the Second International can be united. The more extensive the mass sympathy for the Zimmerwald association, the more incomprehensible to the masses, the more harmful for the development of their struggle become the inconsistency and timidity of the stand which essentially identifies the old parties and the Second Inter national with the bourgeois policy in the working-class movement (see the Zimmerwald Manifesto and the I.S.C.   circular of February 10,1916), while fearing a split with them and promising to dissolve the I.S.C. as soon as the old International Socialist Bureau meets.

Such a promise was never voted on and was not discussed even at Zimmerwald.

The six months since Zimmerwald have made it even clearer that a split is inevitable, that the work which the Zimmerwald Manifesto recommends cannot be conducted in unity with the old parties, and that fear of a split is a brake on every step along that way. In Germany it is not only the I.S.D. group that has condemned the fear of a split and has openly come out against the hypocrisy of the apostles of unity, but also Otto R\"uhle, a member of the Reichstagsfraktion{4} and Karl Liebknecht’s closest friend, who has openly come out for a split. Nor was Vorw\"arts capable of putting forward against R\"uhle a single serious or honest argument. In France, member of the Socialist Party Bourderon spoke against a split, but in fact motioned a resolution at the Congress, which “désapprouve (disavows) the C.A.P (Comité Administratif Permanent=the party C.C.) and the G.P.” (Groupe Parlementaire=the parliamentary group). Adoption of such a resolution would clearly signify an immediate and unconditional split in the party. In Britain even T. Russel Williams, writing in the moderate Labour Leader, repeatedly and openly admitted the inevitability of a split, and received support from a number of party members. In America, where the Socialist Party is formally united, some of its members have come out for militarism and war (so-called preparedness), and others, including Eugene Debs, a former presidential candidate from the Socialist Party, openly preach civil war for socialism in connection with the coming war.

Actually, there is already a split throughout the world, and ignoring this fact would merely harm the Zimmerwaldists, making them ridiculous in the eyes of the masses, who are very well aware that every step of t h e i r work in the Zimmerwald spirit means a continuation and deepening of the split.

We must have the courage openly to recognise the inevitable   and the actual, to abandon any harmful illusions about the possibility of unity with the “defenders of their Country” in the present war, and to help the masses escape the influence of the leaders who “are misleading them” (see the I.S.C. circular of February 10, 1916) or are hatching a “plot” (Pakt) against socialism through an “amnesty”.

That is our proposal on the item of the agenda concerning the convocation of the International Socialist Bureau at The Hague.

*     *

Reformist phrases are the main means of deceiving the people at a time when the objective situation has placed on the agenda of history the greatest world crisis, which, regardless of the will of the various parties, can either be deferred and postponed until the next imperialist war or resolved through socialist revolution. It is neither chance nor the ill will of the several governments or the capitalists of some country but the entire development of bourgeois relations that has led to imperialism and the present imperialist war. Similarly, it is neither chance nor the result of any demagogy or agitation but the objective conditions of the crisis brought about by the war and the sharpening of class contradictions that now generate strikes, demonstrations and other similar manifestations of mass revolutionary struggle in a number of belligerent countries.

Objectively, the question can only be put like this: are we to help this, still weak but intrinsically powerful and deep-going discontent and movement of the masses which may develop into a socialist revolution, or are we to conduct a policy of helping the bourgeois governments (Durchhaltspolitik, politique jusquauboutiste{5} )? The real meaning of the sweet talk about democratic peace consists exclusively in help to the governments through the hypocritical stunning and fooling of the masses.

*     *

This war has brought to the fore the basic problems of imperialism, i.e., of the very existence of capitalist society,   and it would be quackery to suggest to the people, directly or indirectly, that these problems can have a reformist solution. It is a question of a redivision of the world corresponding to the new balance of power between the capitalist states, which in the last few decades have been developing not only very fast, but also—and this is especially important—very unevenly. On the basis of capitalist social relations, this new redivision of the world is impossible other wise than through wars and violence. The objective state of things rules out any reformist solution for the ripe contradictions, it rules out any other way out except a series of imperialist wars or a socialist revolution of the proletariat, the conditions for whose success have already been created precisely by this epoch of imperialism. Real political activity in the given circumstances is possible only as this alternative: either to help your “own” national bourgeoisie plunder other countries or to help the beginning....{6}

Written in late February–March 1916 Printed from the original
First published on November 6 and 7, 1927 in Pravda No. 255



APRIL 15 (28)


The Lugano conference was held in September 1914.{14} If Messrs. Huysmans & Co. wished to convene the Bureau, they could have done so long ago. But they have failed to do it. You deny the split between the sections of the old International, but the split is a fact. Today, we virtually have a crisis of all the socialist parties of the world. On the one hand, you treat Thomas & Co. as abject characters and traitors, and on the other hand, you say today: Oh, we   want to meet them, to discuss things and re-establish the International! What you say is empty talk: it is empty talk because it comes today, 16 months after Lugano. The men with whom you want to re-establish the International are dead, they no longer exist, not literally, but politically.


If Grimm thinks that everyone should not vote separately, we are quite willing to have the voting by groups. The last thing we want to do is to impose our will, but we want the voting to take place; after that we shall willingly take part. in the work of the committees.


The question would have been solved long ago, if a vote had been taken. It is highly unfair that after many days of work together we have to forego the vote. After all, the vote would take no more than 5 minutes! Martov’s proposal is acceptable without objections.{15}

First published in 1965 in Vol. 54 of the Fifth Russian edition of the Collected Works Printed from the minutes of the conference
Translated from the German


{1} See present edition, Vol. 22, pp. 169–79.—Ed.

{2} An inadvertent mistake in the MS., which says “Copenhagen”.—Ed.

{3} Points 12 and 13 arc crossed out in the MS.—Ed.

{4} Parliamentary group.—Ed.

{5} The policy of continuing the war to a victorious end.—Ed.

{6} Here the MS. breaks off.—Ed.

{7} The Second International Socialist Conference was held at Kienthal, Switzerland, from April 24 to 30, 1916. It was attended by 43 delegates from 10 countries and discussed the following questions: = 1) the struggle to end the war; 2) attitude of the proletariat to questions of peace; 3) agitation and propaganda; 4) parliamentary activity; 5) mass struggle, and 6) convocation of the International Socialist Bureau.

As a result of the work done by Lenin and the Bolsheviks before the Conference, the Left wing at the Conference was stronger than at Zimmerwald. The Zimmerwald Left worked out and motioned at the Conference a draft resolution on peace, which contained Lenin’s basic propositions. Although the Kienthal Conference failed to adopt the Bolshevik slogans—to transform the imperialist   war into a civil war, to work for the defeat in the war of one’s own imperialist government and to set up the Third International—it nevertheless helped to bring out and rally, the internationalist elements. Lenin said the Kienthal Conference was a step forward.

Lenin wrote: “Draft Resolution on the Convocation of the Second Socialist Conference”, “For the Conference To Be Held on April 24, 1916. Proposal of the Delegation” and “Proposals Submitted by the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. to the Second Socialist Conference” (see present edition, Vol. 22, pp. 121, 122, 169–79). p. 369

{8} The International Socialist Commission (I.S.C.) in Berne—the executive organ of the Zimmerwald association, set up by the Zimmerwald Conference held on September 5–8, 1915. The I.S.C. included the Centrists R. Grimm, 0. Morgan, Ch. Naine, and A. Balabanova as interpreter. The official report of the Conference published in the I.S.C. Bulletin No. 1 of September 21, 1915, said: = “This secretariat should in no sense substitute for the now existing International Socialist Bureau, and should be dissolved as soon as the latter can fully answer its purpose.” On a copy of the report, now at the Central Party Archives, Lenin underlined these words and wrote in the margin: “Kein Beschluss dar\"uber” (There was no decision about this), that is, the decision was adopted not by the Zimmerwald association, but after the Conference. p. 369

{9} The London conference of the socialists of the Triple Entente countries was held on February 14, 1915. It was attended by representatives of the social-chauvinists and pacifist groups of Britain, France, Belgium and Russia: the Independent Labour Party, the British Socialist Party, the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the French Socialist Party, the General Confederation of Labour, the Belgian Socialist Party, the S.R.s and the Mensheviks. On its agenda were these questions: 1) the rights of nations; 2) colonies; 3) guarantees for a future peace.

The Bolsheviks were not invited to the conference. However, on Lenin’s instructions, M. M. Litvinov went to the conference to read out a declaration of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee. It was based on a draft written by Lenin. The declaration contained a demand for the withdrawal of the socialists from the bourgeois governments, a complete break with the imperialists, a repudiation of collaboration with them, resolute struggle against the imperialist governments and condemnation of the voting of war credits. As he was reading out the declaration, Litvinov was interrupted and not allowed to continue. He handed in the text of the declaration to the presidium and left the conference. On the London conference see Lenin’s articles “The London Conference” and “On the London Conference” (present edition, Vol. 21, pp. 132–34, 178–80). p. 371

{10} A reference to the conference of socialists from Germany and Austria held in Vienna in April 1915. It was a sort of response to the London conference of the socialists of the Triple Entente countries. Its   resolution endorsed the social-chauvinist “defend your country” slogan in the imperialist war. p. 371

{11} Possibilists—a petty-bourgeois reformist trend in the French socialist movement. Their idea was that the workers should confine their struggle to the “possible”. p. 372

{12} The circular—the appeal “To All Affiliated Parties and Groups”—was adopted unanimously at the meeting of the enlarged I.S.C. held at Berne from February 5 to 9, 1916. The delegation of the R.S.D.L.P. C.C., led by Lenin, entered a statement saying that the appeal was a step forward from the decisions of the First International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald, but that it did not find it satisfactory on every point. The appeal was published in No. 3 of the I.S.C. Bulletin on February 29, 1916, and in No. 52 of Sozial-Demokrat on March 25, 1916. p. 375

{13} The question of attitude to convening the International Socialist Bureau was the subject of acute polemics at the Kienthal Conference on April 27 and 28, 1916. The Kautskian section of the Conference motioned several draft resolutions containing the common demand for recognising the need to call the I.S.B. Supporters of the Zimmerwald Left, headed by Lenin, opposed the idea. Under the pressure of the Left, the Right-wing delegates had to support the draft compromise resolution worked out by the committee. The resolution sharply criticised the I.S.B. and demanded the replacement of the Executive Committee of the I.S.B. and expulsion of the socialist ministers from their parties. However, it did not urge an immediate break with the I.S.B. or the establishment of a new International, but, on the contrary, authorised the national sections within the Zimmerwald association to demand the convocation of the I.S.B. p. 379

{14} The joint conference of Italian and Swiss socialists held at Lugano (Switzerland) on September 27, 1914. This was the first wartime effort to restore international ties. p. 379

{15} In his speech, L. Martov proposed that the draft resolutions on convening the I.S.B. should be referred to the committee to work out a compromise resolution. p. 380

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