V. I.   Lenin

Imaginary or Real Marsh?[2]

Published: First published in 1931 in Lenin Miscellany XVII. Written (in German) in late January 1917. Translated from the German. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 23, pages 278-281.
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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In his article on the majority and minority (Berner Tagwacht and Neues Leben) Comrade R. Grimm maintains that, “we too invented” “the marsh, an imaginary Centrist trend in the party”.

We shall prove that the stand taken by Grimm in this article is a typically Centrist one.

In his polemic with the majority, Grimm writes:

No party that subscribes to Zimmerwald and Kienthal has advocated refusal to serve in the army and simultaneously obligated its members to put that slogan into effect. Liebknecht himself donned military uniform and entered the army. The Italian party has confined itself to rejecting war credits and civil peace. The French minority has done likewise.”

We rub our eyes in sheer astonishment. We reread this important passage in Grimm’s article and advise the reader to ponder on it.

Incredible but true! To prove that we invented the Centrist trend, a representative of this very Centre, Grimm, lumps together the Left internationalists (Liebknecht) and the Zimmerwald Right or Centre!!!

Does Grimm really think that he can deceive the Swiss workers and convince them that Liebknecht and the Italian party belong to one and the same trend? That they are not separated by the very difference that distinguishes the Left from the Centre?

Let us set out our arguments:

First, let us hear a witness who does not belong either to the Centre or to the Left. The German social-imperialist Ernst Heilmann wrote in Die Glocke[3] of August 12, 1916,   p. 772: ...“Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft,[1] or the Zimmerwald Right, of which Kautsky is the theoretician and Haase and Ledebour the political leaders...” Can Grimm challenge the fact that Kautsky, Haase and Ledebour are typical men of the Centre?

Second, can Grimm be unaware of the fact that in present-day socialism the Zimmerwald Right or Centre is opposed to an immediate break with the I.S.B., the International Socialist Bureau in The Hague, the bureau of social-patriots? That the Left favours such a break? That at Kienthal representatives of the Internationale group—the group to which Liebknecht belongs—fought against convocation of the I.S.B. and insisted on a break with it?

Third, has Grimm forgotten that social-pacifism, directly condemned by the Kienthal resolution, has now become the platform of the Centre in France, Germany and Italy? That the whole Italian party, which did not protest either against the numerous social-pacifist resolutions and statements of its parliamentary group, or against Turati’s disgraceful December 17 speech, subscribes to social-pacifism? That both Left groups in Germany, the I.S.D. (International Socialists of Germany) and the Internationale (or Spartacus group to which Liebknecht belongs), have forthrightly rejected the social-pacifism of the Centre? Nor should it be forgotten that the worst social-imperialists and social-patriots in France, led by Sembat, Renaudel and Jouhaux, likewise voted for social-pacifist resolutions, thereby strikingly demonstrating and exposing the real, objective meaning of social-pacifism.

Fourth ... but enough! Grimm is expounding precisely the Centrist view when he advises the Swiss party to “satisfy itself” with rejection of credits and civil peace, as the Italian party has done. Grimm criticises the majority proposal precisely from the Centrist standpoint, because the majority wants to move nearer to Liebknecht’s standpoint.

Grimm calls for clarity, frankness and honesty. Very well! But don’t these virtuous qualities call for a clear, frank and honest distinction between the views and tactics   of Liebknecht and those of the Centre, which should not be lumped together?

To side with Liebknecht implies: (1) attacking the main enemy in your own country; (2) exposing the social-patriots of your own country and (with your permission, Comrade Grimm!) not merely of other countries; combating them, and not uniting with them—as you do—against, the Left Radicals; (3) openly criticising and exposing the weaknesses not only of the social-patriots, but also of the social-pacifists and Centrists of your own country; (4) utilising the parliamentary tribune to summon the proletariat to revolutionary struggle, urging it to turn its weapons against its enemy; (5) circulating illegal literature and organising illegal meetings; (6) organising proletarian demonstrations such as, for in stance, the demonstration on Potsdam Square in Berlin at which Liebknecht was arrested; (7) calling on the workers in the war industries to strike, as the Internationale group has done through its illegal leaflets; (8) openly demonstrating the need for complete “regeneration” of the present par ties, which confine themselves to reformist activity; acting as Liebknecht acted; (9) unreservedly rejecting defence of the fatherland in an imperialist war; (10) fighting reformism and opportunism within the Social-Democratic movement all along the line; (11) just as relentlessly combating the trade union leaders, who in all countries, particularly Germany, England and Switzerland, are the vanguard of social-patriotism and opportunism, etc.

Clearly, from this point of view much in the majority draft is subject to criticism. But that can be discussed only in a separate article. Here it is necessary to emphasise that the majority at any rate proposes certain steps in this direction, while Grimm attacks the majority not from the Left, but from the Right, not from Liebknecht’s positions, but from those of the Centre.

Throughout his article Grimm confuses two fundamentally different questions: first, the question of when, at what precise moment, should one or another revolutionary action be carried out. Attempts to decide that question in advance are meaningless, and Grimm is only throwing dust in the workers’ eyes when he reproaches the majority on this point.

Second question: how to refashion, transform a party now incapable of conducting a systematic, persistent and, under any concrete conditions, genuinely revolutionary struggle into a party capable of waging this struggle.

And that is the cardinal question. Here we have the very root of the whole controversy, of the whole struggle of trends, both on the war issue and on defence of the father land! But that is the very question Grimm tries to pass over in silence, gloss over, obscure. More: Grimm’s explanations boil down to denying the very existence of this question.

Everything remains as of old—that idea runs through his whole article. In this lies the most profound justification of the contention that the article speaks for the Centre. Every thing remains as of old: only rejection of war credits and civil peace! Every intelligent bourgeois is bound to admit that, in the final analysis, this is not unacceptable to the bourgeoisie too: this does not threaten its domination, does not prevent it from prosecuting the war (“we submit” as the “minority of the country”—these words of Grimm’s have very far-reaching political implications, much more than would appear at first sight!).

And isn’t it an international fact that the bourgeoisie itself, and its governments in the warring countries, primarily England and Germany, are persecuting only supporters of Liebknecht and are tolerating men of the Centre?

Forward, to the Left, even if this means the resignation of certain social-patriot leaders! This, in a few words, is the political point and purpose of the majority proposals.

Retreat from Zimmerwald to the Right, to social-pacifism, to positions of the Centre, to “peace” with the social-patriot leaders, no mass action, no revolutionising of the movement, no regeneration of the party! That is Grimm’s point of view.

It is to be hoped that, at long last, it will open the eyes of the Swiss Left Radicals to his Centrist position.


[1] Commonwealth of Labour.—Ed.

[2] This article was written in reply to one by Robert Grimm. “Mehrheit und Minderheit in der Militärfrage” (“Majority and Minority on the War Issue”), in the Berner Tagwacht of January 23–27, 1917 (Nos. 19–23) and the magazine Neues Leben (New Life) No. 1 for 1917.

[3] Die Glocke (The Bell)—a fortnightly magazine published in Munich and later in Berlin in 1915–25 by Parvus (Alexander Gelfand), a social-chauvinist member of the German Social-Democratic Party.

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