V. I.   Lenin

Principles Involved in the War Issue

Published: First published in 1931 in Lenin Miscellany XVII. Written in German in December 1916. Translated from the German. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 23, pages 152-160.
Translated: M. S. Levin, The Late Joe Fineberg and and Others
Transcription\Markup: 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.README

Swiss Left Social-Democrats are unanimous in rejecting the defence of the fatherland principle in the present war. The proletariat, at any rate its best elements, is likewise opposed to defence of the fatherland.

Hence, on this most burning issue confronting contemporary socialism in general and the Swiss Socialist Party in particular, it would appear that necessary unity has been achieved. Closer examination, however, is bound to lead us to the conclusion that it is only seeming unity.

For there is absolutely no clarity, let alone unanimity, that a declaration against defence of the fatherland places exceptionally high demands on the revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary viability of the party that makes such a declaration, providing, of course, that it is not reduced to a hollow phrase. And such a declaration does become a hollow phrase if we merely reject defence of the fatherland without being fully aware of, i.e., without appreciating, the demands implied, without realising that all propaganda, agitation, organisation, in short, the sum total of party activity must be radically changed, “regenerated” (to use Karl Liebknecht’s expression) and adapted to the supreme revolutionary tasks.

Let us carefully consider what rejection of fatherland defence implies, if we approach it as a serious political slogan that must really be carried out.

First. We call on the proletarians and the exploited of all the belligerent countries, and of all countries faced with the danger of war, to reject defence of the fatherland. We definitely know now, from the experience of several of the warring countries, what this actually implies in the present   war. It implies rejection of all the foundations of modern bourgeois society, the undermining of the very roots of the modern social system, and not only in theory, not only “in general”, but in practice, directly and immediately. Is it not clear that this can be accomplished only if we go beyond the firm theoretical conviction that capitalism has fully matured for its transformation into socialism and accept the practical, direct and immediate carrying out of such transformation, i.e., the socialist revolution?

Yet that is nearly always lost sight of in discussing refusal to defend the fatherland. At best there is “theoretical” acceptance of the fact that capitalism is ripe for transformation into socialism. But immediate, radical change of all aspects of party activity in the spirit of the directly imminent socialist revolutionthat is shunned!

The people, it is alleged, are not prepared for that!

But that is ridiculously inconsistent. Either, or. Either we do not proclaim immediate rejection of defence of the fatherland—or we immediately develop, or begin to develop, systematic propaganda for immediate socialist revolution. In a certain sense the “people”, of course, are “not prepared” either to reject fatherland defence or accept socialist revolution. But that does not justify two years—two years!—of procrastination and delay in starting to systematically prepare them!

Second. What is being opposed to the policy of defence of the fatherland and civil peace? Revolutionary struggle against the war, “revolutionary mass actions”, as recognised by the 1915 Aarau Party Congress resolution. No doubt a very good decision, but ... but the party’s record since that congress, the party’s actual policy, show that it has remained a paper decision.

What is the aim of revolutionary mass struggle? The party has made no official statement, nor is the question being discussed in general. It is either taken for granted, or frankly admitted, that the aim is “socialism”. Socialism is being opposed to capitalism (or imperialism).

That, however, is absolutely illogical (theoretically) and void of all practical meaning. Illogical because it is too general, too nebulous. “Socialism” in general, as an aim, as the opposite of capitalism (or imperialism), is accepted   now not only by the Kautsky crowd and social—chauvinists, but by many bourgeois social politicians. However, it is no longer a matter of contrasting two social systems, but of formulating the concrete aim of the concrete “revolutionary mass struggle” against a concrete evil, namely, the present high cost of living, the present war danger or the present war.

The whole Second International of 1889–1914 opposed socialism to capitalism in general, and it was precisely this too general “generalisation” that brought on its bankruptcy. It ignored the specific evil of its age, which Frederick Engels nearly thirty years ago, on January 10, 1887, characterised in the following words:

“...a certain petty-bourgeois socialism finds representation in the Social-Democratic Party itself, and even in the ranks of the Reichstag group. This is done in the following way: while the fundamental views of modern socialism and the demand for the transformation of all the means of production into social property are recognised as justified, the realisation of this is declared possible only in the distant future, a future which for all practical purposes is quite out of sight. Thus, for the present one has to have recourse to mere social patchwork...” (The Housing Question, Preface).[1]

The concrete aim of “revolutionary mass struggle” can only be concrete measures of socialist revolution, and not “socialism” in general. The Dutch comrades have given a precise definition of these concrete measures in their programme (published in the Bulletin of the International Socialist Committee No. 3, Berne, February 29, 1916): annulment of the national debt, expropriation of the banks and big industry. When we suggest that these absolutely concrete measures be included in an official party resolution, and be systematically explained in the most popular form, in day-to-day party propaganda at public meetings, in parliamentary speeches, in legislative proposals—we get the same procrastinating, evasive and thoroughly sophistical reply that the people are not yet prepared for this, and so on and so forth!

The point is, however, that we should begin preparing them right now, and firmly stick to this work!

Third, the party has “accepted” revolutionary mass struggle. Very well. But is the party capable of waging it? Is it   preparing for it? Is it studying these problems, gathering together the necessary material, setting up the proper bodies and organisations? Is it discussing the issues among the people and with the people?

Nothing of the kind! The party clings to its old line—a thoroughly parliamentarian, thoroughly trade union, thoroughly reformist and thoroughly legalistic line. The party remains manifestly incapable of facilitating the revolutionary mass struggle and leading it. It is obviously making no preparations whatever for this. The old routine rules supreme and the “new” words (rejection of fatherland defence, revolutionary mass struggle) remain mere words! And the Lefts, failing to realise this, are not mustering their forces, systematically, perseveringly and in all fields of party activity, to combat the evil.

One can only shrug one’s shoulders on reading, for in stance, the following phrase (the last) in Grimm’s theses on the war issue:

In conjunction with trade union organisations, party bodies must in this event [i.e., the calling of a mass railway strike if there is a danger of war, etc.] take all the necessary measures.”

The theses were published in the summer, and on September 16, the Schweizerische Metallarbeiter-Zeitung,[2] issued over the names of its editors, 0. Schneeberger and K. Dürr, contained the following phrase (I was on the verge of saying, the following official reply to Grimm’s theses or pious wishes):

“...The phrase ‘the worker has no fatherland’ is in very poor taste at a time when the workers of all Europe, in their overwhelming majority, have for two years been standing shoulder to shoulder with the bourgeoisie on the battlefields against the ‘enemies’ of their fatherland, while those who remain at home want to ‘live through it’ despite all the poverty and hardship. Should we be attacked by a foreign power we shall doubtlessly see the same picture in Switzerland too!!!

What is this if not “Kautsky” policy, the policy of the impotent phrase, Left declaration and opportunist practice, when, on the one hand, resolutions are proposed urging the party, “in conjunction with trade union organisations”, to call for revolutionary mass strikes, and, on the other, no struggle is waged against the Grütli, i.e., social-patriot,   reformist and thoroughly legalistic, trend and its supporters within the party and the trade unions?

Are we “educating” the masses or corrupting and demoralising them if we fail daily to say and prove that “leading” comrades like 0. Schneeberger, K. Dürr, P. Pflüger, H. Greulich, Huber and many others hold exactly the same social-patriot views and pursue exactly the same social-patriot policy as the one Grimm so “courageously” exposes and castigates... when it concerns the Germans (in Germany) and not the Swiss? Rail against the foreigners, but protect one’s “own” “fellow-citizens”.... Is that “internationalist”? Is that “democratic”?

This is how Hermann Greulich describes the position of the Swiss workers, the crisis of Swiss socialism and also the substance of Grütli policy within the Socialist Party:

“...The standard of living has risen insignificantly and only for the top strata [hear! hear!] of the proletariat. The mass of workers continue to live in poverty, beset by worry and hardship. That is why, from time, to time, doubts arise as to the correctness of the path we have been following. The critics are looking for new paths and place special hope on more resolute action. Efforts are being made in that direction, but as a rule [?] they fail [??] and this increases the urge to revert to the old tactics [a case of the wish being father to the thought?].... And now the world war ... drastic decline in the standard of living, amounting to outright poverty for those sections which in the past still enjoyed tolerable conditions. Revolutionary sentiments are spreading. [Hear! hear!] In truth, the party leadership has not been equal to the tasks confronting it and all too often succumbs [??] to the influence of hot heads [??].... The Grütli-Verein Central Committee is committed to a ‘practical national policy’ which it wants to operate outside the party... Why has it not pursued it within the party? [Hear! hear!] Why has it nearly always left it to me to fight the ultra-radicals?” (Open Letter to the Hottingen Grütli-Verein, September 26, 1916.)

So speaks Greulich. It is not at all, therefore, a matter (as the Grütlians in the party think, and hint in the press, while the Grütlians outside the party say so openly) of a few “evil-minded foreigners” wanting, in a fit of personal impatience, to inject a revolutionary spirit into the labour movement, which they regard through “foreign spectacles”. No, it is none other than Hermann Greulich—whose political role is tantamount to that of a bourgeois Labour Minister in a small democratic republic—who tells us that only the upper strata of the workers are somewhat better off now,   while the mass is steeped in poverty, and that “revolutionary sentiments are spreading” not because of the accursed foreign “instigators”, but because of “the drastic decline in the standard of living”.

And so?

And so, we shall be absolutely right if we say:

Either the Swiss people will suffer hardships that will increase with every passing week and they will be faced daily with the threat of involvement in the imperialist war, i.e., of being killed in the capitalists’ interests, or they will follow the advice of the finest part of their proletariat, muster all their forces and carry out a socialist revolution. ]]

Socialist revolution? Utopia! “A remote and practically indefinable” possibility!...

It is no more a utopia than rejection of fatherland defence in the present war or revolutionary mass struggle against it. One should not be deafened by one’s own words or frightened by the words of others. Nearly everyone is prepared to accept revolutionary struggle against the war. But one must visualise the magnitude of the task of ending the war by revolution! No, it is not a utopia. The revolution is maturing in all countries and the question now is not whether to continue to live in tranquillity and tolerable conditions, or plunge into some reckless adventure. On the contrary, the question is whether to continue to suffer hardship and be thrown into the holocaust to fight for alien interests, or to make great sacrifices for socialism, for the interests of nine-tenths of mankind.

Socialist revolution, we are told, is a utopia! The Swiss people, thank God, have no “separate” or “independent” language, but speak the three world languages of the neighbouring warring countries. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are in such close touch with developments in these countries. In Germany, things have reached a point where the economic life of 66 million people is directed from one centre. The national economy of a country of 66 million is run from this one centre. Tremendous sacrifices are imposed on the vast majority of the people in order that the “upper   30,000” can pocket thousands of millions in war profits, and that millions die in the shambles for the enrichment of these “finest and noblest” representatives of the nation. And in the fase of these facts, of this experience, is it “utopian” to believe that a small nation, with no monarchy or Junkers, with a very high level of capitalism and perhaps better organised in various unions than in any other capitalist country, will try to save itself from hunger and the danger of war by doing the very same thing that has already been practically tested in Germany? With the difference, of course, that in Germany millions are being killed and maimed to enrich a few, open the road to Baghdad, conquer the Balkans, whereas in Switzerland it is merely a matter of expropriating a maximum of 30,000 bourgeois, i.e., not condemning them to perish, but to the “horrible fate” of receiving “only” 6,000–10,000 francs income and giving the rest to the socialist workers’ government in order to ward off hunger and the war danger.

The Great Powers, however, will never tolerate a socialist Switzerland and will use their immensely superior strength to crush the socialist revolution at the very beginning!

That, undoubtedly, would be so if, first, the beginnings of a revolution in Switzerland did not generate a class movement of solidarity in neighbouring countries, and, second, if these Great Powers were not tied up in a “war of attrition” which has practically exhausted the patience of the most patient peoples. Military intervention by the mutually hostile Great Powers would, in present circumstances, only be the prelude to revolution flaring up throughout the whole of Europe.

Perhaps you think I am so naïve as to believe that such issues as socialist revolution can be resolved by “persuasion”?

No. I only wish to illustrate, and, what is more, merely one partial issue, the change that must take place in all party propaganda if we want to approach the question of rejection of fatherland defence with all the seriousness it deserves. That is only an illustration, and it concerns only one partial issue. I lay claim to no more.

It would be absolutely wrong to believe that immediate struggle for socialist revolution implies that we can, or   should, abandon the fight for reforms. Not at all. We cannot know beforehand how soon we shall achieve success, how soon the objective conditions will make the rise of this revolution possible. We should support every improvement, every real economic and political improvement in the position of the masses. The difference between us and the reformists (i.e., the Grütlians in Switzerland) is not that we oppose reforms while they favour them. Nothing of the kind. They confine themselves to reforms and as a result stoop—in the apt expression of one (rare!) revolutionary writer in the Schweizerische Metallarbeiter-Zeitung (No. 40)—to the role of “hospital orderly for capitalism”. We tell the workers: vote for proportional representation, etc., but don’t stop at that. Make it your prime duty systematically to spread the idea of immediate socialist revolution, prepare for this revolution and radically reconstruct every aspect of party activity. The conditions of bourgeois democracy very often compel us to take a certain stand on a multitude of small and petty reforms, but we must be able, or learn, to take such a position on these reforms (in such a manner) that—to oversimplify the matter for the sake of clarity—five minutes of every half-hour speech are devoted to reforms and twenty-five minutes to the coming revolution.

Socialist revolution is impossible without a hard revolutionary mass struggle in which many sacrifices have to be made. But we would be inconsistent if we accepted the revolutionary mass struggle and the desire for an immediate end to the war while, at the same time, rejecting immediate socialist revolution! The former without the latter is nil, a hollow sound.

Nor can we avoid hard struggle within the party. It would be sheer make-believe, hypocrisy, philistine “head-in-the sand” policy to imagine that “internal peace” can rule within the Swiss Social-Democratic Party. The choice is not between “internal peace” and “inner-party struggle”. Suffice it to read Hermann Greulich’s letter mentioned above and examine developments in the party over the past several years to appreciate the utter fallacy of any such supposition.

The real choice is this: either the present concealed forms of inner-party struggle, with their demoralising effect on the masses, or open principled struggle between the   internationalist revolutionary trend and the Grütli trend inside and outside the party.

An “inner struggle” in which Hermann Greulich attacks the “ultra-radicals” or the “hotheads”, without naming these monsters and without precisely defining their policy, and Grimm publishes articles in the Berner Tagwacht larded with hints and only comprehensible to one out of a hundred readers, articles in which he castigates those who see things through “foreign spectacles”, or those “actually responsible” for the draft resolutions he finds so annoying—that kind of inner struggle demoralises the masses, who see, or guess, that it is a “quarrel among leaders” and do not understand what it is really all about.

But a struggle in which the Grütli trend within the party—and it is much more important and dangerous than outside the party—will be forced openly to combat the Left, while both trends will everywhere come out with their own independent views and policies, will fight each other on matters of principle, allowing the mass of party comrades, and not merely the “leaders”, to settle fundamental issues—such a struggle is both necessary and useful, for it trains in the masses independence and ability to carry out their epoch-making revolutionary mission.


[1] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962, pp. 549–50.

[2] Schweizerische Metallarbeiter-Zeitung (Swiss Metalworkers’ Gazette)—a weekly paper founded in Berne in 1902; adopted a social-chauvinist position during the First World War.

< backward   forward >
Works Index   |   Volume 23 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index