Peter Petroff Vanguard December 1915
Source: Vanguard, No.4. December, 1915, pp.5-6;
Transcriber: Ted Crawford.
The outbreak of the war has brought in its train the disorganisation, and in some countries the demoralisation, of the Socialist and other working class organisations.
The progress of the war is bringing about a gradual awakening of the organised workers in almost all the belligerent countries. The illusions as to the “war of liberation,” the fight against Prussian militarism, the restoration of small nationalities, all are disappearing before the driving wind of reaction.
“Words and illusions vanish; facts remain.”
The realities of the war are being understood, the glamour and romance is passing away. Events are teaching the people in a few months more than they could have learned from years of propaganda. How weak and pitiful are now the words of those Labour and Socialist “leaders” who, at the very outbreak of the war, deserted the Socialist and Labour banner and rushed to the assistance of the enemy. While these wretched creatures were talking about national unity, national defence, the capitalist class and their governments have been riveting more securely than ever the chains of slavery upon the working class.
In republican France all liberties are suppressed, and the spirit of the Government is shown in the appointment of the strike-breaker, Briand, as Premier.
Great Britain, which, in the past, has so boasted of its political freedom, has become the domain of a few influential financiers and armament manufacturers who dictate to the Government, through the agency of the Northcliffe press, the foreign and domestic policy of the country. Parliament has become emasculated: liberty is personified by Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, and justice by F.E. Smith, the Ulster dispatch rider. The workers are smarting under the tyrannical Munitions Act, and the campaign for the destruction of trade unionism continues under Government patronage.
In Russia, wholesale theft and bribery have reached unheard-of dimensions even for that country. The illusions of the Liberals have faded. Their candidates for the Ministry remain unfledged. The immoral monk, Rasputin, and the bandit, Khvostov (Minister of the Interior), are ruling supreme.
In Germany the well-known Prussian methods of rule have been accentuated.
Under these circumstances it is natural that signs should begin to appear, in all the countries, of a desire for the reconstruction of the International organisation of the proletariat. Those sections of the working class who maintained the honour of the International, are growing in numbers and influence. Resolute attempts are being made by them to cleanse the Augean stables of jingoism in the working class movement, and to prepare for serious national and international action against the war.
The International Conference at Zimmerwald is a tentative step towards that end. In the manifesto issued by that Conference they rightly state that:-
“Under these unendurable conditions, we, the representatives of the Socialist parties, trade unions, or minorities of these; we, Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, Poles, Letts, Rumanians, Bulgars, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch and Swiss; we, who do not believe in national solidarity with the plundering class, but who stand for the international solidarity of the proletariat and the fight against the capitalist class, have met here to knit together the broken ties of international relationship, and to call upon the workers to bethink themselves and fight for peace.”
The manifesto truly declares that the war is the outcome of capitalism and imperialism:- “The ruling powers of capitalist society, who dominate the lives of the people – the monarchical as well as the republican governments, the diplomats, the mighty Employers’ Federations, the bourgeois parties, the capitalist press, the church – all of them are responsible for the war, which is only a result of the capitalist system of society, and is carried on solely in the interests of the capitalists.”
The manifesto concludes with a strong appeal to the workers of all countries:-
“Workers! Since the very outbreak of the war you have placed your energy, courage and endurance at the disposal of the governing classes. This must cease. Fight for your own cause, for your ideal – for Socialism, for the liberation of the oppressed peoples and enslaved classes by means of determined class struggle.
“It is the duty of the Socialists in the belligerent countries to carry on that fight vigorously. It is the duty of the Socialists in the neutral countries to assist their comrades in this struggle against bloody barbarism, with all the means at their disposal.
“Never in the history of humanity was there a more urgent or noble task than that which falls to us to perform. No sacrifice is too great to be made for the fulfilment of this object: the attainment of Peace among the nations.”
A Committee has been elected at this Conference in order to facilitate communication between the internationalist of the various countries. A number of organisations have declared their adherence to the decisions of the Conference.
All this is, however, to use a Liberal phrase, but one step in the right direction. The manifesto does not call for definite revolutionary action. It simply invites the Socialists of the various countries to carry on a campaign for peace. In its positive demands it includes only a miserable Liberal phrase about “small nationalities” and a statement in general terms against annexations. The authors of the manifesto have not even attempted to analyse the actual state of affairs and the apparent tendencies in order to derive therefrom a programme and policy for the proletariat.
Unfortunately, in this respect the manifesto bears a strong resemblance to the platitudes of which many of the leaders of the Old International were so enamoured.
It could scarcely be otherwise. It has long been said that a conference or a congress does not create anything new. It only can give coherent expression to what is actually prevailing in the elements of which it is composed.
In the international Socialist literature great chaos seems to prevail as to the ways and means of rebuilding the International. Some Socialist organs seem to treat the war and the demoralisation of the International as mere incidents. They think, evidently, that when the fighting is done and peace negotiations are commenced, Jules Guesde, Vandervelde, Hyndman, Henderson and Sudekum will meet each other, forgive and forget their common patriotic blackguardism, and as a sign of truce accept some of the panaceas of the Union of Democratic Control guaranteed to cure the world of all its ills.
These organs and their parties are talking about the sanctity of human life, the horrors of war, but do not show any desire to desert their quietism and to combat vigorously the militarist and reactionary forces.
Others are talking about the social revolution as the immediate step. They do not trouble as to whether this can be accomplished without the necessary forces, but rest content so long as it is stated in resolutions. These people, who are more “revolutionary” than reason permits, suggest the formation of an omnipotent Central Committee to control the whole world. Just in the same way as the Hegelian “idea” was considered the driving force of history, so, in the mind of Socialists, this “Committee” will become the driving force of the revolution irrespective of the balance of power in the various countries. Yet, a glance at the history of the International Workingmen’s Association, and the development of the Second International, would show that the power and growth of the International depended on the relative strength of its composite parts in the various countries.
The foreign policies of the great Powers arc determined by the relationship of forces within each country. How can the foreign policy, say, of this country, be transformed either by confessions of Socialist faith or the establishment of a Central Committee independent of national frontiers, when the power of government and all the institutions are controlled by the reactionary Liberal and Tory organisations? As a matter of fact, many Socialist organisations have not yet managed to get rid of the patriotic, reactionary elements in their midst, which evidently must be the preliminary to any action that will affect the policy of the country.
The German Anti-War Socialists have struck the right note when they declared in their manifesto that “the enemy is within our own gates.” The enemy – the capitalist class and its government, or the despotic Government of Russia – must be crushed by the people, each people against its own Government. The working class with a common programme must fight in their respective countries for the termination of the war and the sweeping out of power of those responsible for it. That means also the restoration of the political liberties possessed by the workers before the war, and their extension in such a way as to assist the working class in its struggle for emancipation.
With the exception of one or two countries where the workers are actually carrying on a revolutionary struggle, the Socialist and Labour organisations are busy expressing platitudes or striving for small increases of wages or similar issues.
This explains the nebulous nature of the Conference decisions. In order to make International Conferences really successful, delegates must be properly elected by the membership of their respective organisations. The agenda ought to be carefully considered by the constituent parties before the conference takes place. The decisions arrived at by the International Congresses should be submitted for the approval of the members of the organisations in each country, and ought to be acted upon in the same way as would any resolution on important internal affairs. Only under these circumstances will the decisions of the International Congresses be effective.
The Zimmerwald Conference did not lose anything, for instance, by the absence of the “delegate” of the B.S.P., of whose appointment the members got to know only after a passport had been refused.
As to the programme and policy of the proletariat at the present moment, we shall now only indicate its general outlines, leaving its detailed consideration for a future issue.
Peace must be obtained by the pressure of the mass movements the people who, in such case alone, would be able to dictate the terms of peace. We are not interested in fostering nationalism or regenerating small nationalities. Our business is the destruction the monarchies and complete democratisation of the States, and gaining of liberties for the proletariat no matter to which nationality they may belong. We must rather destroy the barriers separating the various nations, and on the basis of the economic evolution that binds nations together endeavour to erect a political system corresponding to the actual needs of the day.
The prolongation of the war with all that that means will revolutionise the masses of the people and make drastic action not only possible, but imperative. And the step taken at Zimmerwald, we hope, will prove to be the commencement of a steady progress towards the realisation of our objects.
We must, therefore, purify our parties and immediately proceed to gather our forces, participate in all the chance encounters between the workers and the capitalists, sharpen the class struggle and make ourselves ready for drastic, revolutionary action.
We call upon our comrades in the various branches to affiliate with the Committee of the Zimmerwald Conference. The E.C. of the British Socialist Party adopted a resolution expressing pious approval of the Conference, and then, almost in the same breath, announced that the Belgian Minister of State, Vandervelde, required money, which will undoubtedly be used by him for the further demoralisation of the International. We would suggest to those members of. the E.C., who pose as the opposition in the B.S.P. to sit down fast on one of the two stools between which they are wavering. It is clearly impossible to support the manifesto of the Zimmerwald Conference and at the same time Vandervelde, Hyndman and company. The majority of the E.C. are so international that they did not even reprint and circulate the very mild manifesto issued by the Conference. Yet they are appealing for £200 for the “reconstruction” of the International with Vandervelde sitting at its head.