V. I.   Lenin

Speech at the Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland, November 4, 1916[1]

Published: First published in Russian in 1924 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolutsia No. 4 (27). Published in 1916 in Protokoll über die Verhandlungen des Parteitages der Sozialdemokratischen Partei der Schweiz vom 4 und 5. November 1916 abgehalten im Gesellschaftshaus “z. Kaufleuten” in Zürich. Translated from the German. Published according to the book text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 23, pages 121-124.
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.
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The Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland recently had the honour of rousing the ire of the leader of the official Danish Social-Democratic Party, Herr Minister Stauning. In a letter to another quasi-socialist Minister, Vandervelde, dated September 15 of this year, Stauning proudly declared that “we [the Danish party] have sharply and definitely disassociated ourselves from the organisationally pernicious splitting activities conducted on the initiative of the Italian and Swiss parties under the name of the Zimmerwald movement”.

In greeting the Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland on behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, I do so in the hope that this party will continue to support the effort to unite the revolutionary Social-Democrats internationally, which began at Zimmerwald and which must end in a complete rupture between socialism and its ministerial and social-patriotic betrayers.

This split is maturing in all countries of developed capitalism. In Germany, Karl Liebknecht’s colleague, Comrade Otto Rühle, was attacked by the opportunists and by the so-called Centre when he declared in the Central Organ of the German party that the split had become inevitable (Vorwärts, January 12, 1916). The facts, however, make it increasingly clear that Comrade Rühle was right,   that in reality there are two parties in Germany, one helping the bourgeoisie and the government wage the predatory war, the other, which for the most part is working illegally, spreading really socialist manifestos among the real masses and organising mass demonstrations and political strikes.

In France, the Committee for the Re-establishment of International Contacts[2] recently published a pamphlet, The Zimmerwald Socialists and the War, in which we read that three main trends have developed within the French party. The first, comprising the majority and branded in the pamphlet as socialist-nationalists, social-patriots, has entered into a “holy alliance” with our class enemies. The second, according to the pamphlet, represents a minority and consists of followers of Members of Parliament Longuet and Pressemane, who on key issues go hand in hand with the majority and unconsciously bring grist to the mill of the majority by attracting the discontented elements, lulling their socialist conscience and inducing them to follow the party’s official policy. The third trend, the pamphlet says, are the Zimmerwaldists. They maintain that France was involved in the war not because Germany declared war on her, but because she pursued an imperialist policy which, through treaties and loans, bound her to Russia. This third trend unambiguously pro claims that “defence of the fatherland is not a socialist cause”.

Practically the same three trends have arisen in Russia, as well as in England and in the neutral United States of America—in fact, all over the world. The struggle of these trends will determine the course of the labour movement in the immediate future.

Permit me to say a few words on another point which is being very much discussed these days and on which we Russian Social-Democrats are particularly rich in experience, namely, the question of terrorism.

We have no information yet about the Austrian revolutionary Social-Democrats. We know that there are revolutionary Social-Democrats in Austria, but information about them is very meagre anyway. Consequently, we do not know whether the assassination of Stürgkh by Comrade Fritz   Adler[3] was the application of terrorism as tactics, i.e., systematic organisation of political assassinations unconnected with the mass revolutionary struggle;or whether it was a single act in the transition from the opportunist, non-socialist defence of the fatherland tactics of the official Austrian Social-Democrats to the tactics of revolutionary mass struggle. The latter assumption seems to fit in more with the circumstances. The message of greeting to Fritz Adler proposed by the Central Committee of the Italian party and published in Avanti! of October 29, therefore, deserves the fullest sympathy.

At all events, we are convinced that the experience of revolution and counter-revolution in Russia has proved the correctness of our Party’s more than twenty-year struggle against terrorism as tactics. We must not forget, however, that this struggle was closely connected with a ruthless struggle against opportunism, which was inclined to repudiate the use of all violence by the oppressed classes against their oppressors. We have always stood for the use of violence in the mass struggle and in connection with it. Secondly, we linked the struggle against terrorism with many years of propaganda, started long before December 1905, for an armed uprising. We have regarded the armed uprising not only as the best means by which the proletariat can retaliate to the government’s policy, but also as the inevitable result of the development of the class struggle for socialism and democracy. Thirdly, we have not confined ourselves to accepting violence in principle and to propaganda for armed uprising. For example, four years before the revolution we supported the use of violence by the masses against their oppressors, particularly in street demonstrations. We sought to bring to the whole country the lesson taught by every such demonstration. We began to devote more and more attention to organising sustained and systematic mass resistance against the police and the army, to winning over, through this resistance, as large as possible a part of the army to the side of the proletariat in its struggle against the government, to inducing the peasantry and the army to take a conscious part in this struggle. These are the tactics we have applied in the struggle against terrorism, and   it is our firm conviction that they have proved successful.

I conclude, comrades, by once again greeting the Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland and by wishing you success in your work (applause).


[1] The Swiss Social-Democratic Party Congress in Zurich, November 4--5, 1946, discussed the work of the Social-Democratic group in the National Council, the financial reform, attitude on the Kienthal resolutions and the Grütli-Verein, revision of the party constitution.

Lenin attended all the sessions, and addressed the opening session on behalf of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee. His speech, delivered in German, was followed with close attention. There was a sharp struggle between the diverse trends in the party on practically every agenda item.

A positive feature of the Congress,in Lenin’s view, was the vigorous fight the Left waged against the Right and Centre. The resolution on the Social-Democratic group in the National Council urged it to set an example of struggle for working-class interests and insisted that it be guided in all its activities by party decisions. The resolution on the financial reform, tabled by Grimm and Huber, approved direct taxation and allowed for indirect taxes on tobacco, alcoholic beverages, stamp duty, etc. Two resolutions were submitted on the attitude towards Kienthal one by the party Executive and the other by the Left wing; the question was referred to an emergency congress. On the Grütli-Verein—an affiliated organisation enjoying special status, which took an extreme chauvinist stand in the war—the Congress declared membership in it to be incompatible with membership in the party. Revision of the party constitution was referred to an emergency congress.

The Zurich Congress, Lenin wrote, “definitely proved that the decision to join Zimmerwald and accept revolutionary mass struggle (resolution of the 1915 Aarau Congress) remains on paper, and that within the party there has been definitely formed a ‘Centre’....   This ‘Centre’, of which R. Grimm has become the head, combines ‘Left’ declarations with ‘Right’, i.e., opportunist, tactics” (see p. 137 of this volume).

[2] The Committee for the Re-establishment of International Contacts was formed in Paris in January 1916 by French internationalists. This was the first attempt to set up in France a revolutionary socialist organisation as a counterweight to the official social-chauvinist organisations. The Committee conducted propaganda against the imperialist war, published a number of pamphlets and leaflets, exposing the predatory aims of the imperialists and the social-chauvinists’ betrayal of the working class. It did not, however, appreciate the need for a decisive break with the opportunists, and had no clear-cut and consistent programme of revolutionary struggle. Nevertheless Lenin regarded the Committee as a factor in rallying the internationalist forces in France and in extending the Left Zimmerwaldist influence. Inessa Armand participated in the Committee on Lenin’s instructions.

Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia and the growth of the French labour movement, the Committee became the centre of the revolutionary internationalist forces in France, and in 1920 merged with the Communist Party.

[3] The allusion is to the assassination of Austrian Prime Minister Stürgkh by Friedrich Adler, the Austrian Social-Democratic leader.

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