V. I. Lenin

Notes On The Tasks Of Our Delegation At The Hague [1]

Written: 4 December, 1922
First Published: Pravda No, 96, April 26, 1924; Signed: Lenin; Published according to a typewritten copy corrected and signed by Lenin
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 447-451
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

On the question of combating the danger of war, in connection with the Conference at The Hague, I think that the greatest difficulty lies in overcoming the prejudice that this is a simple, clear and comparatively easy question.

“We shall retaliate to war by a strike or a revolution” that is what all the prominent reformist leaders usually say to the working class. And very often the seeming radicalness of the measures proposed satisfies and appeases the workers, co-operators and peasants.

Perhaps the most correct method would be to start with the sharpest refutation of this opinion; to declare that particularly now, after the recent war, only the most foolish or utterly dishonest people can assert that such an answer to the question of combating war is of any use; to declare that it is impossible to “retaliate” to war by a strike, just as it is impossible to “retaliate” to war by revolution in the simple and literal sense of these terms.

We must explain the real situation to the people, show them that war is hatched in the greatest secrecy, and that the ordinary workers’ organisations, even if they call themselves revolutionary organisations, are utterly helpless in face of a really impending war.

We must explain to the people again and again in the most concrete manner possible how matters stood in the last war, and why they could not have been otherwise.

We must take special pains to explain that the question of “defence of the fatherland” will inevitably arise, and that the overwhelming majority of the working people will inevitably decide it in favour of their bourgeoisie.

Therefore, first, it is necessary to explain what “defence of the fatherland” means. Second, in connection with this, it is necessary to explain what “defeatism” means. Lastly, we must explain that the only possible method of combating war is to preserve existing, and to form new, illegal organisations in which all revolutionaries taking part in a war carry on prolonged anti-war activities—all this must be brought into the forefront.

Boycott war—that is a silly catch-phrase. Communists must take part in every war, even the most reactionary.

Examples from, say, pre-war German literature, and in particular, the example of the Basle Congress of 1912, should be used as especially concrete proof that the theoretical admission that war is criminal, that socialists cannot condone war, etc., turn out to be empty phrases, because there is nothing concrete in them. The masses are not given a really vivid idea of how war may and will creep up on them. On the contrary, every day the dominant press, in an infinite number of copies, obscures this question and weaves such lies around it that the feeble socialist press is absolutely impotent against it, the more so that even in time of peace it propounds fundamentally erroneous views on this point. In all probability, the communist press in most countries will also disgrace itself.

I think that our delegates at the International Congress of Co-operators and Trade Unionists should distribute their functions among themselves and expose all the sophistries that are being advanced at the present time in justification of war.

These sophistries are, perhaps, the principal means by which the bourgeois press rallies the masses in support of war; and the main reason why we are so impotent in face of war is either that we do not expose these sophistries beforehand, or still more that we, in the spirit of the Basle Manifesto of 1912, waive them aside with the cheap, boastful and utterly empty phrase that we shall not allow war to break out, that we fully understand that war is a crime, etc.

I think that if we have several people at The Hague Conference who are capable of delivering speeches against war in various languages, the most important thing would be to refute the opinion that the delegates at the Conference are opponents of war, that they understand how war may and will come upon them at the most unexpected moment, that they to any extent understand what methods should be adopted to combat war, that they are to any extent in a position to adopt reasonable and effective measures to combat war.

Using the experience of the recent war to illustrate the point, we must explain what a host of both theoretical and practical questions will arise on the morrow of the declaration of war, and that the vast majority of the men called up for military service will have no opportunity to examine these questions with anything like clear heads, or in a conscientious and unprejudiced manner.

I think that this question must be explained in extraordinary detail, and in two ways:

First, by relating and analysing what happened during the last war and telling all those present that they are ignorant of this, or pretend that they know about it, but actually shut their eyes to what is the very pivot of the question which must be understood if any real efforts are to be made to combat war. On this point I think it is necessary to examine all the opinions and shades of opinion that arose among Russian socialists concerning the last war. We must show that those shades of opinion did not emerge accidentally, but out of the very nature of modern wars in general. We must prove that without an analysis of these opinions, without ascertaining why they inevitably arise and why they are of decisive significance in the matter of combating war—without such an analysis it is utterly impossible to make any preparations for war, or even to take an intelligent stand on it.

Secondly, we must take the present conflicts, even the most insignificant, to illustrate the fact that war may break out any day as a consequence of a dispute between Great Britain and France over some point of theft treaty with Turkey, or between the U.S.A. and Japan over some trivial disagreement on any Pacific question, or between any of the big powers over colonies, tariffs, or general commercial policy, etc., etc. It seems to me that if there is the slightest doubt about being able at The Hague to say all we want to say against war with the utmost freedom, we should consider various stratagems that will enable us to say at least what is most important and to publish in pamphlet form what could not be said. We must take the risk of our speaker being stopped by the chairman.

I think that for the same purpose the delegation should consist not only of speakers who are able, and whose duty it shall be, to make speeches against war as a whole, i.e., to enlarge on all the main arguments and all the conditions for combating war, but also of people who know all the three principal foreign languages, whose business it shall be to enter into conversation with the delegates and to ascertain how far they understand the main arguments, what need there is to advance certain arguments and to quote certain examples.

Perhaps on a number of questions the mere quoting of facts of the last war will be sufficient to produce serious effect. Perhaps on a number of other questions serious effect can be produced only by explaining the conflicts that exist today between the various countries and how likely they are to develop into armed collisions.

Apropos of the question of combating war, I remember that a number of declarations have been made by our Communist deputies, in parliament and outside parliament, which contain monstrously incorrect and monstrously thoughtless statements on this subject. I think these declarations, particularly if they have been made since the war, must be subjected to determined and ruthless criticism, and the name of each person who made them should be mentioned. Opinion concerning these speakers may be expressed in the mildest terms, particularly if circumstances require it, but not a single case of this kind should be passed over in silence, for thoughtlessness on this question is an evil that outweighs all others and cannot be treated lightly.

A number of decisions have been adopted by workers’ congresses which are unpardonably foolish and thoughtless.

All material should be immediately collected, and all the separate parts and particles of the subject, and the whole #8220;strategy” to be pursued should be thoroughly discussed at a congress.

On such a question, not only a mistake, but even lack of thoroughness on our part will be unpardonable.

December 4, 1922


[1] The Hague International Peace Congress, December 10-15, 1922, was convened by the Amsterdam International Federation of Trade Unions as a result of pressure brought to bear by the working class with the purpose of combating the threat of another world war. The Soviet delegation, invited to the congress on the demand of revolutionary trade unions and co-operatives in face of the resistance of the opportunist majority at the congress, set forth the tasks of the proletariat with regard to war. It spoke in the spirit of the suggestions given to it by Lenin. The congress rejected the programme of action proposed by the Soviet delegation.