V. I.   Lenin

Proposals Submitted by the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. to the Second Socialist Conference

Written: Written February-March 1916
Published: Published in Russian on June 10, 1916 in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 54–55. Published on April 22, 1916 in Bulletin Internationale Socialistische Kommission zu Bern No. 4. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, UNKNOWN, [19xx], Moscow, Volume 22, pages 169-179.
Transcription\Markup: Charles Farrell and D. Walters
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First page of manuscript.

(Theses on points 5, 6, 7a, 7b, and 8 of the agenda: the struggle to end the war; the attitude towards the problems of peace, parliamentary action and mass struggles, and the convocation of the International Socialist Bureau.[2])

(The International Socialist Committee, in its notice convening the Second Conference, invited the affiliated organisations to discuss the above questions, and to send in their proposals. In reply to this invitation our Party submits the following theses.)

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 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 relation of forces in the course of and as a result of the war.

2. As long as the foundations of present, i.e., bourgeois, social relations remain intact, an imperialist war can lead only to an imperialist peace, i.e., to greater, more extensive and more intense oppression of wreak nations and countries by finance capital, which grew to gigantic proportions not only in the period prior to the war, but also during the war. The objective content of the policies pursued by the bourgeoisie and the governments of both groups of Great Powers before and during the war leads to intensified economic oppression, national enslavement and political reaction. Therefore, provided the bourgeois social system remains,   the peace that follows upon the war, whatever its outcome, must perpetuate this worsening of the economic and political condition of the masses.

To assume that a democratic peace may emerge from an imperialist war is, in theory, to substitute vulgar phrases for an historical study of the policies conducted before and during that war. In practice, it is to deceive the masses of the people by beclouding their political consciousness, by covering up and prettifying the real policies pursued by the ruling classes to prepare the ground for the coming peace, by concealing from the masses the main thing, namely, that a democratic peace is impossible without a whole series of revolutions.

3. Socialists do not refuse to fight for reform. Even now, for example, they must vote in parliament for improvements, however slight, in the condition of the masses, for increased relief to the inhabitants of the devastated areas, for the lessening of national oppression, etc. But it is sheer bourgeois deception to preach reforms as a solution for problems for which history and the actual political situation demand revolutionary solutions ’That is precisely the kind of problems the present war has brought to the fore. These are the fundamental questions of imperialism, i.e., the very existence of capitalist society, the questions of postponing the collapse of capitalism by a re-division of the world to correspond to the new relation of forces among the “Great” Powers, which in the last few decades have developed, not only at fantastic speed, but—and this is particularly important—also with extreme unevenness. Real political activity working a change in the relation of social forces, and not merely deceiving the masses with words, is now possible only in one of two forms—either helping “one’s own” national bourgeoisie to rob other countries (and calling this “defence of the fatherland” or “saving the country”), or assisting the proletarian socialist revolution fostering and stirring up the ferment which is beginning among the masses in all the belligerent countries, aiding the incipient strikes and demonstrations, etc., extending and sharpening these as yet feeble expressions of revolutionary mass struggle into a general proletarian assault to overthrow the bourgeoisie.


Just as all the social-chauvinists are at present deceiving the people by covering up the real, i.e., imperialist, policy of the capitalists, which is being continued in the present war with hypocritical phrases about the “dishonest” attack and “honest” defence on the part of this or that group of predatory capitalists, so phrases about a “a democratic peace” serve only to deceive the people, as if the coming peace, which is already being prepared by the capitalists and diplomats, could “simply” abolish “dishonest” attacks and restore “honest” relations, and as if it would not be a continuation, a development, and a perpetuation of this very imperialist policy, i.e., a policy of financial looting, colonial robbery, national oppression, political reaction and intensified capitalist exploitation in every form. What the capitalists and their diplomats now need is “socialist” servants of the bourgeoisie to deafen, dupe and drug the people with talk about a “democratic peace” so as to cover up the real policy of the bourgeoisie, making it difficult for the masses to realise the real nature of this policy and diverting them from the revolutionary struggle.

4. The “democratic” peace programme, in drafting which prominent representatives of the Second International are now engaged, is precisely such a piece of bourgeois deception and hypocrisy. For example, Huysmans at the Arnhem Congress[3] and Kautsky in Die Neue Zeff, the most authoritative, official, and “theoretical” spokesmen of this International, formulated this programme as suspension of the revolutionary struggle until the imperialist governments have concluded peace; in the meantime, there are verbal repudiation of annexations and indemnities, verbal recognition of the self-determination of nations, democratisation of foreign politics, courts of arbitration to examine international conflicts between states, disarmament, a United States of Europe,[4] etc., etc. The real political significance of this “peace programme” was revealed with particular force by Kautsky, when, to prove the “unanimity of the International” on this question, he cited the unanimous adoption by the London Conference (February 1915) and the Vienna Conference (April 1915) of the main point of this programme, namely, the “independence of nations”. Kautsky, before the whole world, thus openly gave his sanction to the   deliberate deception of the people perpetrated by the social-chauvinists, who combine verbal, hypocritical recognition of “independence” or self-determination of nations, recognition that binds no one and leads nowhere, with support for “their own” governments in the imperialist war, notwithstanding the fact that on both sides the war is accompanied by systematic violations of the “independence” of weak nations and is being waged for the purpose of consolidating and extending their oppression.

Objectively, this cheap “peace programme” reinforces the subjection of the working class to the bourgeoisie by “reconciling” the workers, who are beginning to develop a revolutionary struggle, with their chauvinist leaders, by underplaying the gravity of the crisis in the socialist movement to bring back the pre-war state of affairs in the socialist parties which led the majority of the leaders to desert to the bourgeoisie. The fact that this “Kautskyite” policy is clothed in plausible phrases and that it is being conducted not only in Germany but in all countries, makes it all the more dangerous for the proletariat. In Britain, for instance, this policy is being pursued by the majority of the leaders; in France, by Longuet, Pressemane and others; in Russia, by Axelrod, Martov, Chkheidze and others; Chkheidze is screening the chauvinist idea of “defence of the country” in the present war with the “save the country” phrase, paying lip-service to Zimmerwald, on the one hand, and on the other, praising Huysmans’s notorious Arnhem speech in an official declaration by his group: but neither from the floor of the Duma nor in the press has he actually opposed the participation of the workers in the war industries committees, and remains on the staff of newspapers advocating such participation. In Italy, a similar policy is being pursued by Treves: see the threat made by Avanti!,[5] the Central Organ of the Italian Socialist Party, of March 5, 1916, to expose Treves and other ”reformist-possibilists”, to expose those “who resorted to every means to prevent the Party Executive and Oddino Morgari from taking action to secure unity at Zimmerwald and to create a new International”, etc., etc.

5. The chief of the “peace questions” at the present time is that of annexations. It most strikingly reveals the now   prevailing socialist hypocrisy and the tasks of real socialist propaganda and agitation.

It is necessary to explain the meaning of annexations, and why and how socialists must fight against them, Not every appropriation of “foreign” territory can be described as an annexation, for, generally speaking, socialists favour the abolition of frontiers between nations and the formation of larger states; nor can every disturbance of the status quo be described as an annexation, for this would be extremely reactionary and a mockery of the fundamental concepts of the science of history; nor can every military seizure of territory be called annexation, for socialists cannot repudiate violence and wars in the interests of the majority of the population. Annexation must apply only to the appropriation of 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.

The present war, however—precisely bemuse it is an imperialist war insofar as -both groups of belligerent powers are concerned-inevitably had to and did give rise to the phenomenon of the bourgeoisie and the social-chauvinists “fighting” violently against annexations when this is done by an enemy state. This kind of “struggle against annexations” and this kind of “unanimity” on the question of annexation is plainly sheer hypocrisy. Obviously, the French socialists who defend war over Alsace-Lorraine, and the German socialists who do not demand freedom for Alsace-Lorraine, for German Poland, etc., to separate from Germany, and the Russian socialists who describe the war being waged to return Poland to tsarist bondage as a war to “save the country”, and who demand that Polish territory be annexed to Russia in the name of “peace without annexations” etc., etc., are in fact annexationists.

To prevent the struggle against annexations from being mere hypocrisy, or an empty phrase, to make it really educate the masses in the spirit of internationalism, the question must be presented in such a way as to open the eyes of the masses to the fraud in this matter of annexations, instead of covering it up. It is not enough for the socialists of each country to pay lip-service to the equality of nations   or to orate, swear and invoke the: name of God to witness their opposition to annexations, The socialists of every country must demand immediate and unconditional freedom to secede for the colonies and nations oppressed by their own “fatherland”

Without this condition, recognition of the self-determination of nations and principles of internationalism would, even in the Zimmerwald Manifesto, remain a dead letter, at best.

6. The socialists’ “peace programme”, and their programme of “struggle to end the war”, must proceed from the exposure of the lie of the “democratic peace”, the pacific intentions of the belligerents, etc., now being spread among the people by demagogic ministers, pacifist bourgeois, Social-chauvinists, and Kautskyites in all countries, Any “peace programme” will deceive the people and be a piece of hypocrisy, unless its principal object is to explain to the masses the need for a revolution, and to support, aid, and develop the mass revolutionary struggles breaking out everywhere (ferment among the masses, protests, fraternisation in the trenches, strikes, demonstrations, letters from the front to relatives—for example, in France—urging them not to subscribe to war loans, etc., etc,),

It is the duty of socialists to support, extend and intensify, every popular movement to end the war. But it is actually being fulfilled only by those socialists who, like Liebknecht, in their parliamentary speeches, call upon the soldiers to lay down their arms, and preach revolution and transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism.

The positive slogan we muse put forward to draw the masses into revolutionary struggle and to explain the necessity for revolutionary measures to make a “democratic” peace possible, is that of repudiation of debts incurred by states.

It is not, enough to hint at revolution, as the Zimmerwald Manifesto does, by saying that the workers must make sacrifices for their own and not for someone else’s cause. The masses must be shown their road clearly and definitely. They must know where to go and why, That mass revolutionary actions during the war, if successfully developed,   can lead only to the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism is obvious, and it is harmful to conceal this from the masses. On the contrary, this aim must he indicated clearly, no matter how difficult its attainment may appear now, while we are still at the beginning of the road. It is not enough to say, as the Zimmerwald Manifesto does, that “tile capitalists lie when they speak about defence of the fatherland” in the present war, and that the workers in their revolutionary struggle must ignore their country’s military situation; it is necessary to State clearly what is merely hinted at here, namely, that not only the capitalists, but also the social-chauvinists and the Kautskyites lie when they allow the term “defence of the fatherland” to be applied in the present, imperialist war and that revolutionary action during the war is impossible unless “one’s own” government is threatened with defeat; it must be stated clearly that every defeat, of the government in a reactionary war facilitates revolution, which alone is capable of bringing about a lasting and democratic peace. Finally, the masses must be told that unless they themselves create illegal organisations and a press that is free from military censorship, i.e., an illegal press, it will be quite impossible to render serious support to the incipient revolutionary struggle, to develop it, to criticise some of its steps, to correct its errors and systematically to extend and sharpen it.

7. On the question of socialist parliamentary action, it must he borne in mind that the Zimmerwald resolution not only expresses sympathy for the five Social-Democratic deputies in the State Duma, who belong to our Party, and who have been sentenced to exile to Siberia, but also expresses its solidarity with their tactics. It is impossible to recognise the revolutionary struggle of the masses while resting content with exclusively legal socialist activity in parliament. This can only arouse legitimate dissatisfaction among the workers, 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 these activities of their leaders.

8. The question of the convocation of the International Socialist Bureau boils down to a fundamental question of principle, i.e., whether the old parties and the Second International can be united. Every step forward taken By the international labour movement along the road mapped out by Zimmerwald shows more and more clearly the inconsistency of the position adopted by the Zimmerwald majority; for, on the one hand, it identifies the policy of the old parties and of the Second International with bourgeois policy in the labour movement, with a policy which does not pursue the interests of the proletariat, but of the bourgeoisie (for example, the statement in the Zimmerwald Manifesto that the “capitalists” lie when they speak of “defence of the fatherland” in the present war; also the still more definite statements contained in the circular of the International Socialist Committee of February 10, 1916[6]); on the other hand, the International Socialist Committee is afraid of a break with the International Socialist; Bureau and has promised officially to dissolve when the Bureau reconvenes.[7]

We state that not only was such a promise never voted on, but it was never even discussed in Zimmerwald.

The six months since Zimmerwald have proved that actual work in the spirit of Zimmerwald—not empty phrases but work—is bound up throughout the world with the split that is becoming deeper and wider. In Germany, illegal anti-war leaflets are being printed despite the Party’s decisions, i.e., schismatically. When Deputy Otto Ruhle, Karl Liebknecht’s closest friend, said openly that there were actually two parties in existence, one helping the bourgeoisie, and the other fighting against it, many, Including the Kautskyites, reviled him, but no one refuted him. In France, Bourderon, a member of the Socialist Party, is a determined opponent of a split, but at the same time he submits a resolution to his Party disapproving of the Party’s Central Committee and of the parliamentary group (desapprouver Comm. Adm. Perm. et Gr. Parl.), which, If adopted, would certainly have caused an immediate split. In Britain, T. Russell   Williams, a member of the I.L.P., writing in the moderate Labour Leader, openly admits that a split is inevitable and finds support; in letters written by local functionaries. The example of America is perhaps still more instructive, because even there, in a neutral country, two irreconcilably hostile trends in the Socialist Party have become revealed: on the one hand, the adherents of so-called “preparedness”,[1] i.e., war, militarism, and navalism, and on the other, socialists like Eugene Debs, former presidential candidate from the Socialist Party, who openly preaches civil war for socialism, precisely in connection with the coming war.

Actually, there is already a split throughout the world; two entirely irreconcilable working-class policies in relation to the war have crystallised. We must not close our eyes to this fact; to do so would only result in confusing the masses of the workers, in befogging their minds, in hindering the revolutionary mass struggle with which all Zimmerwaldists officially sympathise, and in strengthening the influence over the masses of those leaders whom the International Socialist Committee, in its circular of February 10, 1916, openly accuses of “misleading” the masses and of hatching a “plot;” (Pakt) against socialism.

It is the social-chauvinists and Kautskyites of all countries who will undertake the task of restoring the bankrupt International Socialist Bureau. The task of the socialists is to explain to the masses the inevitability of a split with those who pursue a bourgeois policy under the flag of socialism.


[1] The word is in English in the original.—Ed.

[2] The International Socialist Bureau (I.S.B.) was the permanent executive and information body of the Second International located at Brussels. It was founded by a decision taken at the Paris Congress of the Second International (1900). It consisted of two national delegated from each national party, and was to meet four times a year, the Executive Committee of the Belgian Labour Party being charged with its position between sessions. Vandervelde was its Chairman, and Huysmans, its Secretary. Lenin was a member of the Bureau, as a representative of the R.S.D.L.P., form 1905. Form June 1914, on Lenin’s proposal, M. M. Litvinov was appointed to represent the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee. When the First World War broke out the I.S.B. became a pliable tool in the hands of the social-chauvinists.

[3] A congress of the Dutch Social-Democratic Party held in Arnhem on January 8-9, 1916.

[4] See “The United States of Europe Slogan” in Volume 21

[5] Avanti! (Forward!)-a daily, the Central Organ of the Italian Socialist Party, founded in December 1896. During the First World War it was inconsistently internationalist, and retained its ties with the reformists. It is now the Central Organ of the Italian Socialist Party.

[6] An I.S.C. “Appeal To All Affiliated Parities and Groups”, adopted unanimously by the enlarged meeting on the I.S.C. in Berne on February 5-9, 1916. The delegation of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee, led by Lenin, stated that it regarded the Appeal as a step forward as compared with the decisions of the First International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald but did not find it satisfactory on all points. The Appeal was published in No. 3 of the I.S.C. Bulletin on February 29, 1916, and in No. 52 of Sotsial-Demokrat on March 25, 1916.

[7] The official I.S.C. statement dated September 29, 1915, and published in No. 2 of the I.S.C. Bulletin on November 27, 1915, which said, contrary to the decisions of the First Zimmerwald Conference, that the I.S.C. was prepared to consider itself dissolved as soon as the I.S.B. resumed its activities at The Hague. This was helping to restore the Second International.

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