V. I.   Lenin

The Tasks of the Opposition in France


Published: First published in Russian in 1924 in Proletarskaya Revolutisa No. 4 (27). Published in French as separate leaflet in 1916. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, UNKNOWN, [19xx], Moscow, Volume 22, pages 127-130.
Transcription\Markup: Charles Farrell and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2000 (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.
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February 10, 1916

Dear Comrade,

Your deportation from France–which, incidentally, was noted with a protest even in the chauvinist paper, La Bataille,[2] which, however, did not care to tell the truth, namely, that you were deported for sympathising with the opposition–has once again recalled to my mind the burning question regarding the situation and the tasks of the opposition in France.

I saw Bourderon and Merrheim in Zimmerwald. I heard their reports and read about their work in the newspapers. I cannot in the least doubt their sincerity and devotion to the cause of the proletariat. Nevertheless, it is obvious that their tactics are mistaken. Both fear a split more than anything else. Not a step, not a word that might lead to a split in the Socialist Party or in the trade unions in France, that might lead to a split in the Second International, to the creation of the Third International–such is the slogan of both Bourderon and Merrheim.

Nevertheless, the split in the labour and Socialist movements throughout the world is a fact. We have two irreconcilable working class tactics and policies in relation to the war. It is ridiculous to close our eyes to this fact. Any attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable will doom all our work to futility. In Germany, even Deputy Otto Ruhle, a comrade of Liebknecht’s, has openly admitted that a split in the Party is inevitable, because its present majority, the official “leaders” of the German Party, have gone over to the bourgeoisie. The arguments advanced against Ruhle and against a split by the so-called representatives of the “centre” or “marsh” (le marais) by Kautsky and the Vorwärts,[3] are just lies and hypocrisy, however “well-intentioned”   this hypocrisy may be. Kautsky and the Vorwärts cannot and do not even attempt to deny that the majority of the German Party is in fact carrying out the policy of the bourgeoisie. Unity with such a majority is detrimental to the working class. Such unity means subordinating the working class to the bourgeoisie of “its own” nation; it means a split in the international working class. Actually Ruhle is right when he says that there are two parties in Germany. One, the official party, is carrying out the policy of the bourgeoisie. The other, the minority, is publishing illegal manifestoes, organising demonstrations, etc. We see the same thing all over the world, and the impotent diplomats, or the “marsh,” such as Kautsky in Germany, Longuet in France and Martov and Trotsky in Russia, are causing the greatest harm to the labour movement by their insistence upon a fictitious unity, thus hindering the now ripe and imminent unification of the opposition in all countries and the creation of the Third International. In England even a moderate paper like the Labour Leader publishes Russell Williams’ letters urging the necessity for a split with the trade union “leaders” and with the Labour Party, which he says, “sold out” the interests of the working class. A number of members of the Independent Labour Party have declared in the press that they sympathise with Russell Williams. In Russia, even Trotsky, the “conciliator,” is now compelled to admit that a split is inevitable with the “patriots,” i.e., the party of the “Organisation Committee,” the O.C., who approve of workers participating in the War Industries Committees.[4] It is only false pride that compels Trotsky to continue to defend “unity” with Chkheidze’s Duma fraction, which is the most faithful friend, protector and defender of the “patriots” and the O.C.

Even in the United States of America there is actually a complete split. Some Socialists in that country are for the army, for “preparedness,” for war. Others, including the most popular leader of the workers, Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party Presidential candidate, preach civil war against the war of nations.

Look at what Bourderon and Merrheim are doing! In words they are opposed to a split. But read the resolution which Bourderon moved at the Congress of the French Socialist Party.[5] This resolution demands the withdrawal of the Socialists   from the Cabinet!! The resolution bluntly “disapprover” of the C.A.P. and the G.P. (C.A.P=Com. Adm. Perm., G.P.= Gr. Parlem.[1] )!!! It is as clear as daylight that the adoption of such a resolution would cause a split in the Socialist Party and in the trade unions, because Messrs. Renaudel, Sembat, Jouhaux and Co. would never reconcile themselves to that.

Bourderon and Merrheim share the error, the weakness and the timidity of the majority of the Zimmerwald Conference. On the one hand, in its Manifesto this majority indirectly calls for revolutionary struggle, but is afraid to do so openly. On the one hand, it declares that the capitalists in all countries are lying when they talk about “defending the fatherland” in the present war. On the other hand, the majority was afraid to add the obvious truth which, in any case, every thinking worker will add for himself that not only are the capitalists lying, but so also are Renaudel, Sembat, Longuet, Hyndman, Kautsky, Plekhanov and Co.! The majority of the Zimmerwald Conference wants to become reconciled with Vandervelde, Huysmans, Renaudel and Co. again. This is harmful to the working class, and the “Zimmerwald Left” acted correctly when it openly told the workers the truth.

Look at the hypocrisy of the socialiste-chauvins: in France they praise the German minority in Germany they praise the French!!

What enormous significance the action of the French opposition would have if it straightforwardly, fearlessly, openly declared to the whole world: We are in agreement only with the German opposition, only with Ruhle and his associates!! Only with those who fearlessly sever all connections with avowed and tacit social-chauvinism, socialism chauvine, i.e., with all the “defenders of the fatherland” in the present war!! We ourselves are not afraid to sever our connections with the French “patriots” who call the defence of colonies “defence of the fatherland,” and we call upon Socialists and syndicalists in all countries to do the same!! We extend our hand to Otto Ruhle and Liebknecht, only to them, and to those who associate with them; and we denounce the French and the German majorit\’eand “le marais.” We proclaim the great international unity   of all those Socialists in all countries who in this war repudiate the fraudulent phrase, “defence of the fatherland,” and who are a fraud, and who engaged in preaching and preparing for the world proletarian revolution!

Such an appeal would be of enormous importance. It would scatter the hypocrites, expose and unmask international fraud, and would give a tremendous impetus to the rapprochement of those workers the world over who have really remained loyal to internationalism.

Anarchist phrase-mongering has always been very harmful in France. But now the anarchist-patriots, the anarchist-chauvins, like Kropotkin, Grave, Cornelissen and the other knights of La Bataille Chauviniste will help to cure very many workers of anarchist phrase-mongering. Down with the social-patriots and socialist-chauvins! This call will find an echo in the hearts of the workers of France. Not anarchist phrase-mongering about revolution, but sustained, earnest, tenacious, persistent, systematic work of creating every where illegal organisations among the workers, of spreading free, i.e., illegal literature, of preparing the movement of the masses against their governments. This is what the working class of all countries needs!

It is untrue to say that “the French are incapable” of carrying on systematic illegal work. Untrue! The French quickly learned to conceal themselves in the trenches; they will quickly learn the new conditions of illegal work and systematically to prepare for a revolutionary mass movement. I believe in the French revolutionary proletariat. It will also stimulate the French opposition.

With best wishes,

P.S. I suggest that the French comrades publish a translation of this letter (full translation) as a special = leaflet.[6]


[1] The French abbreviations for Permanent Administrative Commission and parliamentary group.—Ed.






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