History of the World Crisis

Lecture 3: 
The Failure of the Second International

Translated by Juan R. Fajardo, 1998

(Delivered to the “Gonzales Prada” People’s University,
at the Peruvian Student Federation hall, Lima, on June 30, 1923.)


Author’s Notes:

I will not omit presentation of the anarchist movement. I will not bring in any sectarian spirit. I think it is opportune for me to confirm myself in these declarations. Some comrades fear that I may be a bit partial and a bit non-objective in my course. But I am a partisan, above all, of the proletarian united front. We must make many long marches together. Common cause against collaborationism. Rather than grouping workers into sects or parties, group them into a single federation. Let each one have own affiliation, but all, the common class-conscious credo. Let us together study the present’s exciting hours.

We shall complete the examination of the behavior of the socialist parties and the unions. We shall see how and why the proletariat was powerless to prevent the conflagration.

The war caught the Second International unprepared. There was not yet a concrete and practical action program for ensuring peace. Stuttgart Congress. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg’s motion:

“In case war should break out, it is the socialists’ duty to intervene for its speedy termination and to strive with all their power to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist domination.”

But, in the Second International there were few Lenins and Rosa Luxemburgs.

Three years later, the Copenhagen Congress. Vaillant and Keir Hardie proposed a general strike. The technical issue was left for Vienna, 1914.

In 1912 the grave situation forced the II International to convene an extraordinary congress. Basle 1912 November. From this congress came a manifesto. An again the technical issue was left for Vienna, August 1914.

Earlier, Sarajevo. The Brussels International Bureau urgently convened the European socialist parties on July 29. For France, Jaurès, Vaillant, Guesde, Longuet. For Germany, Haase, Rosa Luxemburg. Rush the congress. Paris, August 9, instead of Vienna, August 23. International Office’s declaration. Jaurès’ words on the night of July 29.

Two days later Jaurès dead. Müller in Paris, the 1st of August. Fruitlessness of his mission. The already uncontainable war broke out. The August 9 Congress could not take place. The pages of “Claridad” vividly describe the delirious patriotism and nationalism. The majority obfuscated, infected with the warmongering, martial, aggressive atmosphere. The press and intellectuals instigators.

Why couldn’t the International put up a barrier against this flood of nationalist passion? Why couldn’t the International remain loyal to principles of class-conscious solidarity? Let us look at the circumstances which dictated socialist conduct.

German deputies’ declaration in parliament on August 4. Fourteen votes, against.

French socialists’ declaration in parliament on August 6. In France, an attacked nation, the adherence was more ardorous, more intense.

The attitude of the other workers’ parties. “From the Second to the Third International.”

The Italian socialists’ conduct calls for special mention. They showed the greatest loyalty to internationalism. July 26, socialist manifesto. Struggle between neutralists and interventionism. Interventionism’s socialist abettors. Arturo Labriola.*  Benito Mussolini. Anecdote about both.

Italian socialists’ formula: “Neither join the war nor sabotage it.” Socialist declaration in the Chamber. The Zimmerwald meeting in September of 1915. German, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, Balkan, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Swiss delegations attended. England denied passports. Lenin. The Zimmerwald manifesto, first awakening of proletarian consciousness.

But this call did not resonate in all proletarian consciences. The loyal, in a minority. The sacred union. The national united front. Truce in the class struggle. A single party: that of national defense.

To make sure of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie gave it participation in power. Some concession to the minimum program. The war demanded the greatest possible national discipline. Liberties restricted. This policy seemed the inauguration of the socialist era. Revolutionary war.

The state supported the combatants’ families, offered bread at a low price, and greatly subsidized industry. Abundant well-remunerated work. With this the notion of social injustice was deadened in the masses, the reasons for class struggle were attenuated. The proletariat did not notice that this prodigality of the State built up burdens for the future. After the war, the defeated would pay. Let the people fight to the end. It was necessary to win.

The allies, more than predication of interests, predication of ideals. The English people, believed it fought in defense of weaker peoples. The French people, against barbarism, autocracy, medievalism. Hate of quarrelsomeness.

The Allies’ strength consisted precisely of these myths. For the Austro-Germans, a military war. For the Allies, a holy war, a crusade for great and sacred human ideals. The leaders, for the most part, gave their assent to this propaganda. Effective adherence by a large part of the proletariat. It was not only the bourgeois politicians who spoke. In Austria and Germany the adherence was less strong. War of national defense. Stronger pacifist minorities. Liebknecht, etc., had more room. Germany surrounded by enemies. Sense of victory. Victory in the name of national defense and hope. Germany had sufficient arguments.

All these circumstance led to European proletarians murdering one another other for four years. Thusly, the Second International failed. Experience shows that, within this social order, wars are not inevitable. Capitalist democracy, armed peace, policy of equilibrium, secret diplomacy. War is constantly incubated. And, the proletariat can do nothing. Now, the experience of the Franco-German conflict. Too many nationalist interests and sentiments still carry weight.

In line with these hard lessons, the cry of down with war -- the cry of the II International, of all its congresses, even of the Wilson-type pacifists -- is not enough. The proletariat’s cry: Viva proletarian society. Let us think of building it.

Jaurès’ great phrase must not be far from our thoughts: “We must stop the specter of war from emerging from its grave every six months to terrorize the world.”


* Here, Mariátegui is probably referring to the Marxist writer Antonio Labriola (1848-1904).


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