V. I.   Lenin



Written: Written in late February and March 1916
Published: First published in Pravda No. 255, November 6–7, 1927. Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, Volume 36, pages 377-387.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive.   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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In announcing the convocation of the Second International Socialist Conference, the I.S.C. published the following major items of the agenda:

5. “The struggle to end the war” 

6. “Problems of peace” 

7a. Parliamentary “action” }} “agitation and propaganda ” }} }}

7b. Mass ”

8. International Socialist Bureau.

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

1. In the same way as any war is only the continuation by means of force of the policy which the belligerent powers and the ruling classes in them carried on for long years or decades before the war, so peace ending any war can be nothing but an account and a record of the actual changes in strength achieved as a result of that war.

2. Hence, any talk of assessing a given war on the strength of the “simple” concepts of defence and attack, and of assessing the coming peace on the strength of “simple” high-minded wishes for a stable, democratic, honourable, etc., peace, is most absurd and thick-witted, from the standpoint of theory, from the standpoint of socialist doctrine, and is the greatest deception of the working class in practice.

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

4. Consequently, unless a revolution of the proletariat overthrows the present governments and present ruling classes of the belligerent “Great” Powers, there is absolutely no possibility of any other kind of peace, except a more or less brief armistice between the imperialist powers, a peace accompanied by a strengthening of reactionary forces within the states, an intensification of the national oppression and greater enslavement of the weak nations, a growth in the inflammable material preparing the way for new wars, etc., etc. For from the objective content of the policy engendered by the whole epoch of imperialism, the policy carried on by the bourgeoisie of all the warring “Great” Powers both before this war and during it, inevitably flows a peace based on a fresh and worse oppression of nations, etc.

5. To spread among the masses of the 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 in alliance with the landowners), as most of the official socialist parties are doing, is not only shamelessly to deceive the people, but also to blunt their vigilance and to distract them from the revolutionary struggle, which is already in effect beginning as a movement of strikes and demonstrations.

6. That is just the kind of deception of the people and distraction of the proletariat from the revolutionary struggle that is inherent in the “peace programme” now being “unanimously” put forward both by Huysmans, the Second International’s official representative at the congress of the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiter Partei of Holland in Arnhem,[6] and by Kautsky, the most influential theoretician of the Second International and the most influential   defender of the social-patriots and social-chauvinists of all countries. Their programme is nothing but verbal and hypocritical recognition of a few democratic pious hopes: rejection of annexations and indemnities, self-determination of nations, democratisation of foreign policy, courts of arbitration to examine disputes between states, disarmament, United States of Europe, etc., etc.

7. The most obvious confirmation of the fact that this “peace programme” is sheer hypocrisy is, on the one hand, its verbal acceptance by a number of bourgeois pacifists and ministerial demagogues of the warring countries, and on the other, its repetition by notorious (notorisch) chauvinists at the conferences of the “socialists”, first of one group of warring powers in London (February 1915) and then of the other in Vienna (April 1915).[7] It is the “ socialists” who join bourgeois governments engaged in the predatory war, who voted the war credits and assisted the war by taking part in various organisations and institutions, etc., who in practice pursue a policy of defending old and new annexations, colonial oppression, etc., that now proclaim before the whole world their “peace programme”, consisting of rejection of annexations and so forth.

8. The highest authority in the Second International, Kautsky, proclaimed to the whole world on May 21, 1915 (Neue Zeit) that the agreement and “unanimity” of “ socialists” in London[1] and in Vienna, on the principle of the “independence” or self-determination of nations, proves the Second International’s “unanimity” on, and “ viability” in, its “peace programme”.[8] This defence and sanction of the most crying and most brazen hypocrisy and deception of the workers is by no means an accident, but a systematic policy pursued in a number of countries by men who pretend to be “internationalists”, but actually whitewash the imperialist war by applying to it the idea of “defence of the fatherland”, and strengthen the domination of the labour movement by social-chauvinists, who have betrayed socialism, by preaching “unity” with them. This policy, which is most harmful and dangerous for the   working class, is being carried on by Kautsky, Haase and others in Germany, Longuet, Pressemane and others in France, most of the leaders in Britain, Axelrod, Martov and Chkheidze and Co. in Russia, Trèves and others in Italy (see the threat of Avanti!, the Central Organ of the Italian Party, issued on March 5, 1916, to expose Trèves and other “reformist-possibilists ” as having “set in motion every possible means to obstruct the action of the party leadership and Oddino Morgari towards the Zimmerwald organisation and the new International itself”[9]). This world-wide policy, which is most dangerous for the working class, may be called a Kautskian policy, after its most authoritative representative.

9. Socialists cannot renounce the struggle for reforms. They must vote, incidentally in parliaments as well, for any, even minor, improvements in the condition of the masses, such as higher aids to the inhabitants of devastated areas, relaxation of national oppression, etc. But on the basis of the present war and the peace which follows from it, such reformist activity for the improvement of the people’s condition is obviously possible only in miniature proportions. It would be a crying deception of the masses to suggest to them, directly or indirectly, that a reformist solution of the problems raised by the present war is possible. For this war has brought about a revolutionary situation in Europe by making an issue of the most fundamental problems of imperialism, which must needs be solved the imperialist way unless the present governments and ruling classes of Europe happen to be overthrown the revolutionary way. Therefore, the main \and basic task in the struggle for a stable and democratic peace on the part of socialists should be: first, explanation to the masses of the need of revolutionary mass struggle, systematic propaganda of such struggle and the creation of an appropriate organisation; second, exposure of the lies and hypocrisy both of bourgeois-pacifist and socialist, particularly Kautskian, talk about peace and the “ unanimity” of the Second International on the “peace programme”. Such phrases are doubly hypocritical when coming from “socialists” who echo the bourgeoisie in denying any possibility of transforming the present imperialist war   into a civil war for socialism, and who oppose any revolutionary activity in this direction.

10. The central point of the prevailing hypocrisy about a “peace programme” is the allegedly unanimous acceptance of struggle against old and new annexations. But those who talk about annexations and the struggle against them are unable, or for the most part unwilling, to think about the meaning of annexation. It is clear that not every attachment of “foreign” territory can be called annexation, since socialists, generally speaking, are in favour of eliminating frontiers between nations, the coming together and integration of nations, and the formation of larger states. It is clear that not every infringement of the status quo can be considered annexation: this would be a most reactionary attitude, and a mockery of the fundamental conceptions of historical science. It is clear that not every attachment by force, that is, war, can be considered annexation, since socialists cannot object to force if it is applied in the interests of the mass of the population and the interests of mankind’s progress. It is clear that only the attachment of territory against the will of its population can and must be deemed annexation. In other words, the concept of annexation is organically bound up with the concept of self-determination of nations.

11. It is precisely on the basis of the present war, because of the fact that it is imperialist on the part of both groups of warring “Great” Powers, that there was bound to develop, and actually did develop, the phenomenon of the bourgeoisie and social-chauvinists intensively “fighting” against “annexations”, if they have been carried out, or are being carried out, by an enemy state. Südekum and his Austro-German friends and defenders, including Haase and Kautsky, are silent about the annexations carried out by Germany in respect of Alsace-Lorraine, Denmark, Poland, etc., but very often “fight against annexations” carried out by Russia in respect of Finland, Poland, Ukraine, the Caucasus, etc., by Britain in respect of India, and so forth. On the other side, the British, French, Italian and Russian Südekums, i.e., Hyndman, Guesde, Vandervelde, Renaudel, Trèves, Plekhanov, Axelrod, Chkheidze and 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, Ukraine, etc., but then largely “fight against annexations” carried out by Germany.

It is clear that such “struggle against annexations” on the part of the social-chauvinists and Kautskyites is hypocritical through and through, and the bourgeoisie is assisting such struggle directly, by allocating millions upon millions for chauvinist propaganda, and indirectly, by granting a monopoly of legality only to the social-chauvinists and the Kautskyites.

It is clear that both the French “socialists” who justify a war for Alsace-Lorraine, and the German “socialists” who refuse to demand freedom for Alsace-Lorraine to secede from Germany, are equally annexationists, for all their swearing to the contrary. It is clear that Russian “socialists” who speak or write against the “break-up of Russia”, or, behind the “peace without annexations ” slogan, justify, directly or indirectly, the present war over who is to enslave Poland, are just as much annexationists, and so on and so forth.

12. If socialists are not to transform “the struggle against annexations” into an empty phrase or into revolting hypocrisy, they should, first, explain to the masses the need for revolutionary struggle for the conquest of political power by the proletariat and a socialist revolution which springs from all the conditions of the imperialist epoch and the present imperialist war, and which alone can firmly and everywhere ensure the self-determination of nations, i.e., liberate oppressed nations and effect the coming together and integration of nations, not on the basis of force but on the basis of the equal rights and consent of the proletariat and working people of all nations; secondly, immediately mount the widest propaganda and agitation against the veiled chauvinism and annexationism of the official socialist parties, especially in the “Great” Powers. Socialists should explain to the masses that the English socialist who does not struggle now for freedom of secession for Ireland, India, etc., is a socialist and internationalist only in words, and a chauvinist and annexationist in practice. The same applies to the French socialist who does not fight for the freedom of the French colonies, against   the war to annex Alsace-Lorraine, etc.; the German socialist who does not fight for freedom of secession for Alsace-Lorraine, the Danes, the Poles, the Belgians, the Serbs and others; the Russian socialist who does not fight for freedom of secession for the Ukraine, Finland, etc., and against war over Poland; the Italian socialist who does not fight for freedom of secession for Tripoli, Albania, etc.; the Dutch socialist who does not fight for freedom of secession and independence for the Dutch East Indies; the Polish socialist who does not fight for full freedom and equality for the Jews and the Ukrainians oppressed by the Poles, and so on.

13. It inevitably follows from the Zimmerwald manifesto and the I.S.C. circular of Feb. 10, 1916 (Bulletin No. 3)[10] that all “war on war” and “struggle for peace” are hypocrisy unless they are indissolubly bound up with immediate revolutionary mass struggle, and with its propaganda and preparation. But this conclusion must be set forth straightforwardly and definitely. There is need, first, to explain to the masses what the development of the revolutionary mass struggle in the conditions of a European war can and must (muss) lead to. It leads inevitably to the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism. This is hinted at by all the speeches about it being better for the workers to die for their own cause, rather than for someone else’s. But a hint is insufficient. The masses should have clearly put before them the great, even though maybe not very immediate, aim. They should know what direction to take and why. Second, if we call on the masses to fight their governments “ regardless of the military position of a given country”, we thereby not only reject in principle the admissibility of “defence of the fatherland ” in the present war, but recognise the desirability of defeat of any bourgeois government, in order to transform the defeat into a revolution. And this must be said straightforwardly: revolutionary mass struggle cannot become international unless its class-conscious representatives openly unite for the purpose of defeating and overthrowing all bourgeois governments. Third—and this is most important—it is impossible to carry on a revolutionary mass struggle without creating everywhere, not   only at the top but also in the midst of the masses, an illegal organisation for its propaganda, preparation and discussion of its course and conditions. If there have been street demonstrations in Germany, if there have been many letters from the front calling on the people not to subscribe to the war loan in France, if there have been mass strikes in Britain, to say nothing of Russia, then in order to aid this struggle, to unify it on an international scale, it is unquestionably necessary to report every step along this road in a free, i.e., illegal, press, analysing the successes, assessing their conditions, and building up and developing the struggle. Without an illegal organisation and an illegal press the acceptance of “mass action” will remain an empty phrase (as is the case in Switzerland).[2]

14. On the question of the socialists’ parliamentary struggle (Aktion), it should be borne in mind that the Zimmerwald resolution not only expresses its sympathy with the five Social-Democratic deputies of the Duma, who belong to our Party, and who have been sentenced to exile in Siberia, but also proclaims its solidarity with their tactics. It is impossible to recognise the revolutionary struggle of the masses and put up with the purely legal, purely reformist activity of socialists in parliaments; this leads only to legitimate dissatisfaction among the workers, and their leaving the S.D. ranks for anti-parliamentary anarchism or syndicalism. It is essential to say clearly and publicly that Social-Democrats in parliaments must use their position not only to make parliamentary speeches, but also to give all-round extra-parliamentary assistance to the illegal organisation and revolutionary struggle of the workers, and that the masses themselves must, through their illegal organisation, check up on such activity by their leaders.

15. The question of convening the International Socialist Bureau, included in the agenda of the coming Second International Socialist Conference, unavoidably raises the more fundamental question of principle, namely, whether the unity of the old parties and of the Second International is possible. The wider the sympathy among the masses   for the Zimmerwald organisation, the less understandable for the masses and the more harmful for the development of their struggle is the inconsistency and timidity of the attitude which in essence identifies the old parties and the Second International with bourgeois policy in the working-class movement (see the Zimmerwald manifesto and I.S.C. circular of Feb. 10, 1916), while fearing a split with them, and promising to dissolve the I.S.C. directly the old International Socialist Bureau reassembles.

This promise was not voted upon, and was not even discussed at Zimmerwald.

During the six months since Zimmerwald, it has become even clearer that a split is inevitable, that the work recommended by the Zimmerwald manifesto cannot be carried on in unity with the old parties, and that the fear of a split hampers every step on that way. In Germany it is not only the Internationale Sozialisten Deutschlands group that has condemned the fear of a split, and has openly come out against the hypocrisy of those who preach unity; Otto Rühle, a member of the Reichstagsfraktion and a close associate of Karl Liebknecht, has openly declared for a split. And Vorwärts has failed to find a single serious or honest argument against Rühle. In France, Bourderon, a member of the Socialist Party, is against a split in words, but has actually tabled in the Congress a resolution which directly “désapprouve [disapproves ] of the C.A.P. [Comité Administratif Permanent=Party Executive] and the G.P.” (Groupe Parlementaire=parliamentary group). The adoption of such a resolution would clearly mean an immediate and unquestionable split in the party. In Britain, T.  Russel Williams, even writing in the moderate Labour Leader, has openly and repeatedly declared the inevitability of a split, and has met with support from some members of his party. In America, with formal unity in the Socialist Party, some of its members declare for militarism and war (so-called preparedness), and others, among them Eugene Debs, the one-time Socialist candidate for the Presidency, openly preach civil war for socialism in connection with the looming war.

There is already an actual split throughout the world, and closing their eyes to this only tends to harm the   Zimmerwaldists, making them ridiculous in the eyes of the masses, who know perfectly well that each step in their work in the spirit of Zimmerwald means a continuation and widening of the split.

It takes courage openly to recognise what is inevitable and what has taken place, to abandon the harmful illusions about unity being possible with the “defenders of the fatherland ” in the present war, to help the masses to be rid of the influence of those leaders who are “misleading them” (see the I.S.C. circular of Feb. 10, 1916) or paving the way for a plot (Pakt) against socialism via an “amnesty”.

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

*     *

Reformist talk is the main means for 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 several parties, can be either evaded or put off until the next imperialist war, or resolved through a socialist revolution. It is neither an accident nor the ill will of the several governments or capitalists of some country but the whole evolution of bourgeois relations that has led to imperialism and the present imperialist war. Nor is it an accident or the result of some demagogy or agitation but the objective conditions of the wartime crisis and the aggravation of class contradictions that are now giving rise to the strikes, demonstrations and similar other manifestations of mass revolutionary struggle in a number of belligerent countries.

Objectively the question appears in this way—and in no other: either to help this still weak but internally powerful and deep ferment and movement of the masses, which is potentially capable of developing into a socialist revolution; or to conduct a policy of assisting the bourgeois governments (Durchhaltspolitik, politique jusquauboutiste[3] ). The real meaning of the sugary talk about a democratic peace is nothing but assistance to the governments through the hypocritical dulling and duping of the masses.

*     *

This war has raised the fundamental questions of imperialism, that is, the questions of the very existence of capitalist society, and it would be quackery to suggest to the people—directly or indirectly—that any reformist solution of these problems is possible. What is involved here is a fresh division of the world in accordance with the new balance of forces between the capitalist states, which over the last few decades have been developing not only at exceptional speed but—and this is especially important—extremely unevenly. On the basis of capitalist social relations this redivision of the world is inconceivable except through force and war. The objective state of things rules out any reformist solution for the mature contradictions; it rules out any other way out except a series of imperialist wars or a socialist revolution of the proletariat, for whose success the imperialist epoch itself has already created the conditions. Real political activity in these conditions is possible only as one of two things: assistance to “one’s own” national bourgeoisie in plundering other countries, or assistance to the incipient....[4]


[1] The MS. says erroneously “in Copenhagen”.—Ed.

[2] Paragraphs 12 and 13 are crossed out in the MS.—Ed.

[3] Carrying on the war to a victorious end.—Ed.

[4] Here the MS breaks off.—Ed.

[5] The proposals by the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. to the Second Zimmerwald Conference were written in response to the I.S.C.’s “Appeal to All Affiliated Parties and Groups” (see Internationale Sozialistische Kommission zu Bern. Bulletin No. 3, February 29, 1916).

There are two variants of the proposals in manuscript of which the initial 15–point text is published in this volume. For the second (final) eight-point variant see present edition, Vol. 22, pp. 109–79.

The Second International Socialist Conference was held in Kienthal (Switzerland) from April 24 to 30, 1916. It was attended by the representatives of Germany (7), Italy (7), Russia (8, including Lenin and Petrova [Inessa Armand]), Poland (5), France (4), Switzerland (5), etc., a total of 43 persons, of whom 12 were firm supporters of the Left.

On the agenda there were the following items: the struggle to end the war, the proletariat’s attitude to the questions of peace, parliamentary activity and mass struggle; the convocation of the International Socialist Bureau, etc. At this Conference, the Left was stronger than at Zimmerwald. Lenin secured the adoption of a resolution criticising social-pacifism and the activity of the International Socialist Bureau. The Conference helped to bring out and rally the internationalist elements who, in 1919, on the initiative of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, set up the Third, Communist, International. But the Conference failed to adopt the basic planks of Bolshevik policy, namely, transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, defeat of one’s own imperialist government in the war, and organisation of the Third International.

[6] The congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Holland was held at Arnhem on January 8 and 9, 1916.

[7] London Conference of Socialists of the Entente Countries was held on February 14, 1915. It was attended by social-chauvinists and pacifists from the socialist parties of Britain, France, and Belgium, and by the Mensheviks and S.R.s from Russia.

Although the Bolsheviks had not been invited, Litvinov ( Maximovich) went to the conference on Lenin’s instructions to read out a declaration of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee, based on a draft written by Lenin. It demanded the withdrawal of socialists from bourgeois governments, a complete break with the imperialists, refusal to co-operate with them, resolute struggle against one’s own imperialist government and condemnation of the voting of war credits. Litvinov was reading the declaration, when he was interrupted and ruled out of order. He handed the text of the declaration to the presidium and left the conference. For details on the London conference, see present edition, Vol. 21, pp. 132–34 and 178–80.

The Vienna Conference of Socialists of Germany and Austria, a kind of response to the London Conference of Socialists of the Entente Countries, was held in April 1915. It endorsed the social-chauvinist “Defend the Fatherland ” slogan.

[8] A reference to K. Kautsky’s article “Nochmals unsere Illusionen” (Once Again about Our Illusions) in Die Neue Zeit No. 8, May 21, 1915.

[9] A reference to the editorial article in Avanti! No. 65 of March 5, 1916, entitled “Polemica in casa nostra” (Polemics in Our Camp),   in which the editors quoted an extract from Trèves’s article in Critica sociale, and polemised with him.

[10] Circular of the International Socialist Commission—an appeal from the I.S.C. to all parties and groups of the Zimmerwald Association, adopted unanimously at the February meeting of the I.S.C. in Berne in 1916. The delegation of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee, led by Lenin, tabled a statement saying that it regarded the appeal as a step forward in comparison with the decisions of the First International Socialist Conference in Zimmerwald, but did not find it satisfactory in every respect. The appeal appeared in Bulletin der I.S.K. No. 3 on February 29, 1916 and in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 52 on March 25, 1916.

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