Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution: III


The disarmament advocates object to the “armed nation” clause in the programme also because it more easily leads, they allege, to concessions to opportunism. The cardinal point, namely, the relation of disarmament to the class struggle and to the social revolution, we have examined above. We shall now examine the relation between the disarmament demand and opportunism. One of the chief reasons why it is unacceptable is precisely that, together with the illusions it creates, it inevitably weakens and devitalizes our struggle against opportunism.

Undoubtedly, this struggle is the main, immediate question now confusing the International. Struggle against imperialism that is not closely linked with the struggle against opportunism is either an empty phrase or a fraud. One of the main defects of Zimmerwald and Kienthal[1]—on the main reasons why these embryos of the Third International may possibly end in a fiasco—is that the question of fighting opportunism was not even raised openly, let alone solved in the sense of proclaiming the need to break with the opportunists. Opportunism has triumphed—temporarily—in the European labor movement. Its two main shades are apparent in all the big countries: first, the avowed, cynical, and therefore less dangerous social-imperialism of Messrs. Plekhanov, Scheidemann, Legien, Albert Thomas and Sembat, Vandervelde, Hyndman, Henderson, et al,; second, the concealed, Kautskyite opportunism: Kautsky-Haase and the social-Democratic Labor Group in Germany[2]; Longuet, Pressemane, Mayeras, et al., in France; Ramsay MacDonald and the other leaders of the Independent Labor Party in England; Martov, Chkheidze, et al., in Russia; Treves and the other so-called Left reformists in Italy.

Avowed opportunism is openly and directly opposed to revolution and to incipient revolutionary movements and outbursts. It is in direct alliance with the governments, varied as the forms of this alliance may be—from accepting ministerial posts to participation in the war industries committees (in Russia).[3] The masked opportunists, the Kautskyites, are much more harmful and dangerous to the labor movement, because they hide their advocacy of alliance with the former under a cloak of plausible, pseudo-“Marxist” catchwords and pacifist slogans. The fight against both these forms of prevailing opportunism must be conducted in all fields of proletarian politics: parliament, the trade unions, strikes, the armed forces, etc. The main distinguishing feature of both these forms of prevailing opportunism is the concrete question of the connection between the present war and revolution, and the other concrete questions of revolution, and the other concrete questions of revolution, are hushed up, concealed, or treated with an eye to police prohibitions. And this despite the fact that before the war the connection between this impending war and the proletarian revolution was emphasized innumerable times, both unofficially and officially in the Basle Manifesto.[4] The main defect of the disarmament demand is its evasion of all the concrete questions of revolution. Or do the advocates of disarmament stand for an altogether new kind of revolution, unarmed revolution?

To proceed. We are by no means opposed to the fight for reforms. And we do not wish to ignore the sad possibility—if the worst comes to the worst—of mankind going through a second imperialist war, if revolution does not come out of the present war, in spite of our efforts. We favor a programme of reforms directed also against the opportunists. They would be only too glad if we left the struggle for reforms entirely to them and sought escape from sad reality in a nebulous “disarmament” fantasy. “Disarmament” means simply running away from unpleasant reality, not fighting it.

In such a programme, we would say something like this: “To accept the defense of the fatherland slogan in the 1914–16 imperialist war is to corrupt the labor movement with the aid of a bourgeois lie.” Such a concrete reply to a concrete question would be more correct theoretically, much more useful to the proletariat and more unbearable to the opportunists, than the disarmament demand and repudiation of “all and any” defense of the fatherland. And we would add: “The bourgeoisie of all the imperialist Great Powers—England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Japan, the United States—has become so reactionary and so intent on world domination, that any war waged by the bourgeoisie of those countries is bound to be reactionary. The proletariat must not only oppose all such wars, but must also wish for the defeat of its 'own' government in such wars and utilise its defeat for revolutionary insurrection, if an insurrection to prevent the war proves unsuccessful.”

On the question of a militia, we should say: We are not in favor of a bourgeois militia; we are in favor only of a proletarian militia. Therefore, “not a penny, not a man”, not only for a standing army, but even for a bourgeois militia, even in countries like the United States, or Switzerland, Norway, etc. The more so that in the freest republican countries (e.g., Switzerland) we see that the militia is being increasingly Prussianized, particularly in 1907 and 1911, and prostituted by being used against strikers. We can demand popular election of officers, abolition of all military law, equal rights for foreign and native-born workers (a point particularly important for those imperialist states which, like Switzerland, are more and more blatantly exploiting larger numbers of foreign workers, while denying them all rights). Further, we can demand the right of every hundred, say, inhabitants of a given country to form voluntary military-training associations, with free election of instructors paid by the state, etc. Only under these conditions could the proletariat acquire military training for itself and not for its slaveowners; and the need for such training is imperatively dictated by the interests of the proletariat. The Russian revolution showed that every success of the revolutionary movement, even a partial success like the seizure of a certain city, a certain factory town, or winning over a certain section of the army, inevitably compels the victorious proletariat to carry out just such a programme.

Lastly, it stands to reason that opportunism can never be defeated by mere programmes; it can only be defeated by deeds. The greatest, and fatal, error of the bankrupt Second International was that its words did not correspond to its deeds, that it cultivated the habit of hypocritical and unscrupulous revolutionary phrase-mongering (note the present attitude of Kautsky and Co. towards the Basle Manifesto). Disarmament as a social idea, i.e., an idea that springs from, and can affect, a certain social environment, and is not the invention of some crackpot, springs, evidently, from the peculiar “tranquil” conditions prevailing, by way of exception, in certain small states, which have for a fairly long time stood aside from the world’s path of war and bloodshed, and hope to remain in that way. To be convinced of this, we have only to consider the arguments advanced, for instance, by the Norwegian advocates of disarmament. “We are a small country,” they say. “Our army is small; there is nothing we can do against the Great Powers [and, consequently, nothing we can do to resist forcible involvement in an imperialist alliance with one or the other Great Power group].... We want to be left in peace in our backwoods and continue our backwoods politics, demand disarmament, compulsory arbitration, permanent neutrality, etc.” (“permanent” after the Belgian fashion, no doubt?).

The petty striving of petty states to hold aloof, the petty-bourgeois desire to keep as far away as possible from the great battles of world history, to take advantage of one’s relatively monopolistic position in order to remain in hidebound passivity—this is the objective social environment which may ensure the disarmament idea a certain degree of success and a certain degree of popularity in some small states. That striving is, of course, reactionary and is based entirely on illusions, for, in one way or another, imperialism draws the small states into the vortex of world economy and world politics.

In Switzerland, for instance, the imperialist environment objectively prescribes two courses to the labor movement: the opportunists, in alliance with the bourgeoisie, are seeking to turn the country into a republican-democratic monopolistic federation that would thrive on profits from imperialist bourgeois tourists, and to make this “tranquil” monopolistic position as profitable and as tranquil as possible.

The genuine Swiss Social-Democrats are striving to use Switzerland’s relative freedom and her “international” position to help the victory of the close alliance of the revolutionary elements in the European workers’ parties. Switzerland, than God, does not have “a separate language of her own”, but uses three world languages, the three languages spoken in the adjacent belligerent countries.

If twenty thousand Swiss party members were to pay a weekly levy of two centimes as a sort of “extra war tax”, we would have 20,000 francs per annum, a sum more than sufficient periodically to publish in three languages and distribute among the workers and soldiers of the belligerent countries—in spite of the bans imposed by the general staffs—all the truthful evidence about the incipient revolt of the workers, their fraternizing in the trenches, their hope that the weapons will be used for revolutionary struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie of their “own” countries, etc.

That is not new. It is being done by the best papers, like La Sentinelle, Volksrecht, and the Berner Tagwacht,[5] although, unfortunately, on an inadequate scale. Only through such activity can the splendid decision of the Aarau Party Congress[6] become something more than merely a splendid decision.

The question that interests us now is: Does the disarmament demand correspond to this revolutionary trend among the Swiss Social-Democrats? It obviously does not. Objectively, disarmament is an extremely national, a specifically national programme of small states. It is certainly not the international programme of international revolutionary Social-Democracy.


[1] Lenin is referring to the international socialist conferences at Zimmerwald and Kienthal.

The first Zimmerwald Conference met on September 5–8 1915 and was attended by 38 delegates from 11 European countries. Lenin headed the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee delegation.

The Conference adopted the Manifesto “To the European Proletariat”, in which, at the insistence of Lenin and the Left Social-Democrats, several basic propositions of revolutionary Marxism were included. It also adopted a joint declaration by the German and French delegations, a message of sympathy with war victims and fighters persecuted for their political activities, and elected the International Socialist Committee (I.S.C.).

The Zimmerwald Left group was formed at this Conference. It included representatives of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee headed by Lenin, the Regional Executives of the Social-Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the Central Committee of the Lettish Social Democratic Party, the Swedish Left (Karl Zeth Hoglund), the Norwegian Left (Ture Nerman), the Swiss Left (Fritz Platten), and the “International Socialists of Germany” group (Julius Borchardt). The Zimmerwald Left waged an active struggle against the Centrist majority at the Conference. But it was only the Bolsheviks among the Left who advocated a fully consistent policy.

The second International Conference was held at Kienthal, a village near Berne, between April 24 and 30 1916. It was attended by 43 delegates from 10 countries. The RSDLP Central Committee was represented by Lenin and two other delegates.

The Conference discussed the following questions:

1) the struggle to end the war; =
2) attitude of the proletariat on the peace issue; =
3) agitation and propaganda; =
4) parliamentary activity; =
5) mass struggle; =
6) convocation of the International Socialist Bureau.

Led by Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left was much stronger at Kienthal than at the earlier Zimmerwald Conference. At Kienthal, it united 12 delegates and some of its proposals obtained as many as 20 votes, or nearly half the total. This was indicative of how the internationalism in the world labor movement had changed in favor of internationalism.

The Conference adopted a Manifesto “To the Peoples Suffering Ruination and Death” and a resolution criticizing pacifism and the International Socialist Bureau. Lenin regarded the Conference decisions as a further step in uniting the internationalist forces against the imperialist war.

The Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences helped to unite the Left elements in the West-European Social-Democratic movement on the principles of Marxism-Leninism. Subsequently these Left elements took an active part in founding communist parties in their countries and in organizing the Third, Communist International.

[2] The Social-Democratic Labor Group—An organization of German Centrists founded in march 1916 by Reichstag members who had broken with the Social-Democratic Reichstag group. It had the support of the majority of the Berlin organization and became the backbone of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, founded in April 1917. The new party sought to justify avowed social-chauvinists and advocated preservation of unity with them.

[3] The war industries committees were established in Russia in May 1915 by the imperialist bourgeoisie to help the tsarist government in the prosecution of the war. The Central War Industry Committee was headed by one of Russia’s biggest capitalists, Guchkov, leader of the Octobrists. In an attempt to bring the workers under their influence and foster chauvinist sentiments, the bourgeoisie decided to organize “workers’ groups” in these committees, thereby creating the impression that a “class peace” had been achieved in Russia between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The Bolsheviks declared a boycott of the committees and successfully carried it out with the support of the majority of workers.

As a result of Bolshevik propaganda, elections to the “workers’ groups” were held only in 70 out of a total of 239 regional and local committees, and workers’ representatives were elected only in 36 of them.

[4] The Basle Manifesto—A manifesto on the war issue. Was adopted at the extraordinary International Socialist Congress held in Basle on November 24–25 1912.

[5] La Sentinelle—A Newspaper, organ of the Swiss Social-Democratic organization of Neuchatel Canton (Switzerland), published at La Chaux-de-Fonds from 1890 to 1906 and resumed in 1910. During the First World War it followed an internationalist policy.

Volksrecht (People’s Right)—A daily paper, organ of the Swiss Social-Democratic Party founded in Zurich in 1898. During the First World War it published articles by Left Zimmerwaldists.

Berner Tagwacht (Berne Guardian)—A Social-Democratic newspaper founded in Berne in 1893. It published articles by Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring and other Social-Democrats in the early days of the First World War. In 1917, it came out in open support of the social-chauvinists.

[6] The Aarau Congress of the Swiss Social-Democratic Party met on November 20–21 1915. The central issue was the party’s attitude towards the Zimmerwald internationalist groups, and the struggle developed between the three following trends: = 1) anti-Zimmerwaldists; = 2) supporters of the Zimmerwald Right; and = 3) supporters of the Zimmerwald Left. Robert Grimm tabled a resolution urging the party to affiliate with the Zimmerwald group and endorse the political programme of the Zimmerwald Right. The Left forces, in an amendment moved by the Lausanne branch, called for mass revolutionary struggle against the war, declaring that only a victorious proletarian revolution could put an end to the imperialist war. Under Grimm’s pressure, the amendment was withdrawn, but it was again proposed by M. M. Kharitonov, a Bolshevik with the right to vote delegated by one of the party’s branches. Out of tactical considerations, Grimm and his supporters were obliged to approve the amendment and it was carried by 258 votes to 141.

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