Arthur Rosenberg 1934
At the time that Lenin parted company from the other Russian socialists and democrats he also broke with the Socialist International for similar reasons. In consequence of the rupture of his relations with the International, Lenin sought to inculcate his views into the non-Russian labouring classes in order to obtain sympathisers with the Bolshevik Party beyond the Russian frontiers and to establish a new — Third — International. Throughout the years 1903 to 1914 the existence of the Bolshevik Party within the Second International had only been rendered possible by maintaining the fiction that the leading groups in the International were of as revolutionary a character as were the Bolsheviks. After 1914 this fiction could no longer be maintained.
The so-called break-up of the Second International in 1914 was not indeed due to the fact that the socialist working class was unable to prevent the outbreak of war. The war would have come even if the Social-Democrat parties in all the eight great powers had been led by heroic revolutionaries. For in 1914 there did not exist in Japan, Great Britain or the United States any great socialist parties. In France, Austria-Hungary and Italy the socialists formed only a small minority of the population. In Russia, as long as the Tsar maintained his rule, the socialists were powerless. Although the Social-Democrats in Germany were supported by a good third of the parliamentary voters, they were powerless when confronted with a middle-class majority supported by the great Prussian military and police system. In not a single one of the eight great powers, in July 1914, was a socialist government in power, nor were any of the eight governments dependent for their parliamentary existence upon the socialist vote. Hence the socialists were powerless to prevent the war. The International cannot be condemned on this count and its break-up must not be ascribed to its inability to prevent the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, the International was forced in August 1914 to discard the revolutionary mask that it had been wearing, and this action seemed tantamount to its own dissolution.
An organisation can only be looked upon as revolutionary when it has for its avowed and sole object the accomplishment of the overthrow of the existing order within a measurable space of time. If judged by this — the only just — criterion, the groups composing the Second International were not revolutionary and their place is in the second category in the classification attempted in the previous chapter. They accepted the existence of the capitalist state and sought to improve the condition of the working class within its limits. In consequence they were forced into a position incompatible with their own beliefs. For the theories of Marx, which they had made their own, called for revolution. There were, indeed, two ways in which they could attempt to evade this contradiction between their professed beliefs and their actions. The first way was an open and sincere confession that Marx’s theories must be altered to suit changed circumstances, and that Social-Democracy, even possibly in alliance with middle-class opinion and abandoning an ideology dominated by its final aim, must seek to accomplish definite reforms. Those who believed in this course became known as revisionists (IIa). The second way was that of continuing to accord the chief place in agitation and propaganda to the final aim, rejection of reforms, refusal to cooperate in the peaceful promotion of better conditions and to compromise with middle-class political parties and governments. At the same time there was to be no action of a revolutionary nature, and the small successes won for the working class by the ‘reformist’ trade unions were to be regarded secretly as matters for rejoicing. This course was adopted by the radicals, who were in general the leaders of the Second International (IIb).
There can be no question that up to 1914 the revisionists had a far better knowledge of actual political and economic conditions than had the so-called radicals. The revisionists could accomplish more for the working class and could gain greater influence over governments by means of their association with non-socialist parties. Radicalism, however, afforded the working man comfort and hope in his miserable daily life. It increased his class-consciousness and opened his eyes to the gulf between him and the middle class. Nevertheless, radicalism of the type IIb must of necessity break down at a time of great political crisis; for it could neither act in a revolutionary sense nor pursue a tactical policy of reform. It needed, indeed, the powerful authority of the middle-class state that actually protected it from the consequences of its own ‘revolutionary’ speeches. A sincere revisionist could more easily accommodate himself to a difficult situation than could a traditional radical of this type.
Another contradiction must be examined in considering the differences between radicals and revisionists. The socialists were in the minority in all countries. And it was radicalism that demanded the seizure of political power. Now the socialists could only achieve that power by cooperation with a part of the middle class, that is, by ‘revisionist’ tactics. The radicals by refusing to enter into any compromise postponed the acquisition of power to a time so distant that it ceased to be within the realm of actual politics.
A party in the sense of category I — Social-Democracy as a revolutionary party aiming at completing the middle-class revolution — did not then exist outside the ranks of the Russian Bolsheviks. It would have been Bolshevism, for example, if prior to 1914 the German Social-Democrats had proclaimed a revolutionary war against the Hohenzollerns and the Prussian junkers, if they had set up an illegal organisation with its centre in Switzerland, and if they had enthusiastically promoted an alliance with the Catholic Centre and the liberals against the Prussian conservatives. In those days, however, nobody in any country outside Russia dreamed of pursuing such strategy and tactics. It is true that Wilhelm Liebknecht played with such ideas from 1866 to 1870 at the time when he laid stress upon the need for a revolutionary struggle with Bismarck and Prussianism, and was prepared to enter into an alliance for that purpose with all middle-class, grossdeutsche enemies of Prussia and even with the clerical particularists. That, however, remained an episode in the history of German Social-Democracy without further consequences.
In prewar Europe there was also to be found the small group of socialist intellectuals which has been classified under category III above. These men were convinced that the age of peaceful capitalism would shortly be succeeded by one filled with terrible wars and convulsions of society. Hence the necessity in their opinion for the working man to turn his back upon reform and high-sounding phrases and return to the ways of revolution. This revolution could only be a socialist workmen’s revolution in consequence of the tremendous development of modern capitalism and the destruction of the lower middle class. As has already been pointed out in the previous chapter, this theory met with little support in Poland, Germany or Holland.
What was the attitude adopted by Bolshevism before 1914 towards the various groups within the International? Apart from the Bolsheviks there were to be found in Russia representatives — naturally in a Russian dress — of all the different tendencies in European socialism. Thus the revisionists (IIa) were represented in Russia about 1900 by the so-called economists, who believed that Social-Democracy should only occupy itself with the purely economic interests of the working classes, and, after the failure of the revolution in 1905, by the so-called liquidators, who looked upon the existence of the illegal Social-Democrat organisations as superfluous. The Mensheviks were representative of Western European radicalism (IIb) and Trotsky of category III.
In the eyes of Russian working men the socialist International possessed great authority. They felt themselves strengthened in their desperate conflict with Tsarism and in the persecution which they had to endure at its hands by the feeling of unity with class-conscious workers in all other countries. Thus Lenin was forced to make common cause with those groups — the radicals — in the International who advocated revolution in their speeches and resolutions. Indeed it would seem that prior to 1914 Lenin looked upon the German Social-Democrat Party with its radical leaders as an organisation somewhat resembling Bolshevism. He believed that a party led by Bebel and whose programme was laid down by Kautsky would at the given moment lead a revolution against Wilhelm II and German capitalism. Moreover, he noted the strict discipline governing the party and that a certain group of leaders continuously maintained their authority over it. Nor did complaints against the autocratic methods of the party committee escape his notice. Thus he came to believe sincerely that Bebel and his friends were a German counterpart of the dictatorship exercised by the Bolshevik Party over the working men.
That was a grave error. For if in Western European parties and trade unions the power of the leaders was great, and at times the opposition had good reasons for complaining that it was abused, the leaders themselves depended in the last resort upon the suffrages of the members and could not therefore indefinitely maintain themselves in office against the will of the workers who had elected them. If Lenin (as certain of his prewar utterances would lead one to suppose) really looked upon German Social-Democracy as a form of Bolshevism, it was unquestionably a mistake on his part. The fanatical personal hatred with which Lenin pursued Karl Kautsky after August 1914 cannot be explained simply on grounds of differences of opinion. Such hatred can only be entertained by a person who has formerly loved greatly. After 1914 Lenin sought to revenge himself upon Kautsky for having mistakenly admired his ideas and organisation for twenty years past.
Although in matters of principle he was for the most part in disagreement with them, Lenin admired Rosa Luxemburg and her followers for their revolutionary enthusiasm. As early as 1903 Rosa Luxemburg had raised her voice in protest against Lenin’s theory of revolutionary organisation. She refused to accept his conception of a dictatorship over the proletariat and she could only conceive of a great revolution as spontaneous action on the part of the working classes. This notion of spontaneity appeared in Lenin’s eyes to be the purest nonsense. Moreover, Rosa Luxemburg rejected Lenin’s proposed alliance between the proletariat and the lower middle classes; and she did not agree with Lenin as to the importance to be attached to the problems of the peasantry and nationalism.
In 1912 Rosa Luxemburg’s famous book The Accumulation of Capital was published, in which she propounded the theory that capitalism can only continue to exist for so long as non-capitalist countries and classes remain open to its exploitation. The mad struggle between the imperialistic states for colonies was motivated by the desire to exploit the last remaining non-capitalist territories on the surface of the globe. In a short time the process of dividing up the world among capitalist states would have reached its culmination. Capitalism would find itself faced with destruction. The proletariat would everywhere rise in victorious revolution. Thus in 1912 Rosa Luxemburg already proclaimed the coming world revolution. This revolution, however, was to be a purely socialist revolution and not the partially middle-class revolution which Lenin was to announce in 1915. Lenin rejected absolutely Rosa Luxemburg’s theories of imperialism. In the essay on imperialism, which he published in 1915, Lenin praised the book on financial capitalism written by the Austrian socialist Hilferding, and did not even mention Rosa Luxemburg’s work. The notion that capitalism would one day automatically break down was in Lenin’s opinion a dangerous illusion. Unless the revolution itself overthrew them, the capitalists always had a way of escape from the gravest danger; and the revolution could not be organised according to Rosa Luxemburg’s theories of a purely proletarian movement that took no account of the peasants, etc. Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky were nearer to each other in their ideas than were Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin. In 1903 Trotsky, like Rosa Luxemburg, had emphatically rejected Lenin’s theory of the necessity for organisation. In 1909 Trotsky published an article in Rosa Luxemburg’s Polish newspaper setting forth his ideas on the coming Russian revolution, and in 1915 he agreed with her in insisting that national wars were no longer possible in an imperialistic age.
Then came August 1914. Unable to prevent the outbreak of war, the socialist parties in Germany, France, Austria and Belgium proclaimed their willingness to assist in the defence of their respective countries; and their attitude was defensible from a Marxist standpoint inasmuch as neither Marx nor Engels had denied the idea of nationality. Nevertheless, it was not incumbent upon these socialist parties to agree to a political truce in their several countries. They might without risk have maintained the individual position of the proletariat in both political and economic life and have attempted to pursue an independent socialist and internationalist policy. The moment the radical groups in the Second International agreed to participate in the defence of their countries they were forced to abandon the attitude of irreconcilability in which they had hitherto persisted. Their freedom of action was lost to them and they became the prisoners of the political truce. To the outside world this seemed tantamount to a complete collapse. The tendencies classified above under categories IIa and IIb became indistinguishable from each other. When, however, the workmen and members of the socialist movement began to criticise their own actions and those of their leaders, many outstanding personalities among both the revisionists and the radicals opposed the official party policy of supporting the political truce — thus, for example, in Germany, Bernstein, the formulator of the revisionist theory, and Kautsky, the adviser of the party committee until 1914, both went into opposition to the official party leaders.
In August 1914 Lenin recognised the non-revolutionary character of the Second International and abandoned it as valueless for his purpose. He hoped, nevertheless, that the convulsion of the World War would result in the creation of new revolutionary groups of workmen in the various European states. As early as 1 November 1914, Lenin demanded the creation of a Third International in an article in which he wrote:
Opportunism has triumphed over the Second International and it is dead... The Second International accomplished its share of the necessary preliminary work of organising the proletarian masses throughout the long and peaceful period of cruel capitalistic enslavement and swift capitalistic development in the last third of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The Third International is confronted with the task of organising the proletariat for a revolutionary attack upon capitalist governments, for civil war with the middle class in all countries to achieve political power, and for the victory of socialism.
Lenin also endeavoured to find a scientific explanation for the moral collapse of the International and made use for this purpose of his basic principle of imperialism. He dubbed the policy of support for the middle class on the part of the socialists in time of war ‘socialist chauvinism’. Moreover, he maintained the identity of these socialist chauvinists with the opportunists or prewar revisionists. Nor could the exclusion of a few individuals affect the validity of this theory. After all opportunism was a result of imperialism.
The capitalistic middle class were enabled by the vast profits they made abroad, in colonies, etc, to throw a sop to the working men. This sop took the form of the higher wages paid to skilled workmen. There arose in this manner in America and in Europe a sort of working-class aristocracy composed of work-people who had become identified with the life of the lower middle classes and who felt themselves in sympathy with and dependent upon the economic organisation of their countries. This ‘aristocratic’ class of work-people dominated the Social-Democrat party organisations in Europe in alliance with a bureaucracy composed of the party officials and trade-union officials. The revolutionary spirit and ideal had long ceased to animate them; they were the formulators and executants of opportunist and socialist-chauvinist policy. The sweated masses of poor and miserably-paid workmen hated this policy in their hearts. They were radical and revolutionary. At the same time they were not organised because the party machinery was in the hands of the opportunists who denied the revolutionary workmen all opportunity for expressing their wishes. Hence the task confronting revolutionary socialism in every country was to organise the revolutionary masses and lead them in an attack upon the ‘aristocratic’ workmen and the middle class.
This theory of an aristocracy of working men contained an element of truth. Nevertheless, its universal application was indefensible and had dangerous consequences for the international labour movement. It is unquestionably true that groups of workers whose incomes far exceed a living wage, and whose habits of life are barely distinguishable from those of the lower or even upper middle class, can only with difficulty attain to a proletarian class-consciousness. It is for this reason that even today the chief elements in the American working class are opposed to socialism. Marxism, however, proves that the existence of such elements within the system of wage-labour can only be in the nature of exceptions. It would, for example, be a wild exaggeration to call the standard of life in 1913 of skilled metal-workers in Germany, Austria and France, non-proletarian. If the restricted living conditions which had been obtained by 1913 for the German metal-workers as the result of protracted struggles on the part of the trade unions had sufficed to render them indifferent to real socialism, then socialism would have been proved bankrupt both as a political movement and as a conception of the ordering of society. The fact that the raising of wages by a few marks sufficed to turn the workers into counter-revolutionaries and middle-class citizens would have deprived socialism of all meaning. Revolutionary socialists would in that case have been forced to watch anxiously for any rise in wages that might send the workmen into the enemy’s camp.
Any attempt on the part of Lenin’s followers at a future time to found new revolutionary labour parties in Central and Western Europe in accordance with this principle would mean that the poorly-paid workers and the unemployed would have to be roused against their skilled and better-paid fellows. This would give rise to mutual hatred and cause a wide gulf to open between the various elements in the proletariat. Any possibility of a successful revolution would thereby be automatically destroyed. The working class on the European continent could only achieve power by gaining a large body of middle-class opinion for their cause. Although Lenin’s theory of revolution demanded a popular revolution led by the workers against imperialism at the time of the World War, it is clear that his theory of a working-class aristocracy implied that skilled turners and carpenters were to be included in the ranks of the enemies of the working class. All employees, officials and peasants must in that case be looked upon as the enemies of the proletariat. The new revolutionary socialist party would then be nothing more than a sect of the poorest workers, influenced emotionally by the unemployed, filled with hatred for everyone who had been more successful, and completely incapable of ever achieving political power.
This profound irreconcilability in the doctrines of Lenin when applied to Western Europe did not become evident until after the World War. As early as 1914 Lenin had set different aims before his followers within and without Russia. His followers in Russia were to work for the realisation of the middle-class revolution while those in Western Europe sought to bring about a socialist revolution. Out of this difference in aims arose later certain differences within the body of doctrine known as Bolshevism.
It was Lenin’s belief that the socialists could have prevented the catastrophe of 1914 if they had chosen the right moment to exclude from their ranks the opportunists — the clique of working-class aristocrats and their doctrinaire leaders. In support of his belief Lenin compared conditions in Russia and Italy with those obtaining in Germany, Austria, France and Belgium. Opportunists and true socialists were united in the same party in the four latter countries. On the occurrence of the crisis the opportunists secured control of the party organisations. In Russia, on the other hand, the Bolsheviks had separated themselves from the Mensheviks in time; and in consequence the outbreak of war found the Russian proletariat strong and prepared for battle. In Italy in like manner the opportunists under Bissolati had been excluded from the Social-Democrat Party before the World War. Bissolati’s ostracism was followed by that of the socialist-chauvinist Mussolini soon after the outbreak of war. Hence the Italian Social-Democrats were in a position to offer a determined opposition to the militarist policy of their government.
In truth, however, the Italian Socialists were a typical Second International group composed of a mixture of categories IIa and IIb. They were no more revolutionary than were the German Social-Democrats. The difference lay rather in the fact that in Italy, as distinct from Germany and France, in the years 1914 and 1915 national opinion was not solidly in favour of war. A great body of middle-class and lower-middle-class opinion was opposed to Italy’s allying herself with the Entente. For this reason it was far easier for the Italian Socialists to oppose a warlike policy on the part of the Italian government than it was, for example, for the Belgian Socialists. Hence it came about that in 1914-15 Italian Social-Democracy appeared more revolutionary than it really was at heart. This illusory condition led to tragic consequences.
The dissatisfaction of socialists throughout Europe with the policy of maintaining a political truce steadily increased during the first years of the war. Demands were put forward for renewed liberty of action on the part of the labour parties, for a policy of opposition to the governments in power, and for the opening of negotiations for peace. Nevertheless, those who put forward these demands did not contemplate revolutionary action and did not see any prospect of its meeting with success. A general pacification was their principal demand. As a revolutionary Lenin detested this ‘middle’ group of pacifists and followers of Kautsky as much as he detested the socialist chauvinists. For Lenin was not willing to contemplate a peace concluded between imperialistic governments and resulting in the strengthening of imperialism. Civil war and not peace was what he desired; and in peace propaganda he saw only a means to the confusion and paralysis of the revolutionary proletariat.
An international conference of socialist opponents of the policy of a political truce was held at Zimmerwald in Switzerland from 5 to 8 September 1915, for the purpose of working out a common policy. The conference was summoned on the initiative of Italian and Swiss socialists and Germany was represented by ten delegates. Of these, six represented the opinions held by the group that later became known as ‘Independent’ Social-Democrats. These six were led by Ledebour and Adolf Hoffmann. Rosa Luxemburg’s Spartacist Union was represented by three delegates. Julian Borchardt came to voice the views of a small private body of opinion. Two delegates came from France. The delegates from England were refused their passports. Other countries represented were Bulgaria, Rumania, Sweden, Norway and Holland. Russia was represented by the following delegates: Lenin and Zinoviev represented the Bolsheviks; Martov and Axelrod, the Mensheviks; Trotsky, his own group; two delegates, the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries; and, finally, left-wing socialists from Poland and Latvia.
It quickly became evident that the majority in the conference supported Kautsky rather than Lenin. Resolutions were passed denouncing the political truce and demanding the pursuit of a policy of opposition to existing governments for the purpose of forcing them to make peace. In accordance with the traditions of socialism in Western Europe the conference rejected all proposals for revolutionary action and refused to recognise the existence of a cleavage of opinion within the ranks of the International. Out of thirty votes Lenin’s proposals only received the support of seven. Apart from his own and Zinoviev’s, he was supported by the votes of a Lett and a Pole (Radek) as well as by those of the two Scandinavian delegates. (In view of the completely non-revolutionary conditions obtaining in Norway and Sweden the support given by these delegates to a policy of civil war was purely theoretical.) The seventh vote cast for Lenin was that of Borchardt. Even the Spartacists did not vote in his favour. Lenin thus encountered defeat on the platform of the Zimmerwald Conference at the hands of the opposition among the international socialists. If the voting is analysed, according to countries, it becomes clear that Lenin had no supporters in France, England or Italy, and only a few isolated individuals followed his lead in Germany — all these being countries of the utmost importance from a socialist standpoint. The Bolsheviks indeed did not wax enthusiastic over the conference in Zimmerwald. In a critical appreciation of its work Zinoviev wrote:
The conference only took a first and hesitating step along the path on which we wish to lead international socialism. The conference did not above all wish to pass any precise and unmistakable resolution dealing with the crisis. It did not want to declare open war upon opportunism and hold up, even in theory, the flag of Marxism. Its attitude was perhaps unavoidable in present circumstances. Events move with exceeding slowness; nevertheless they move... It is only necessary to take as an example the question of the Third International. The conveners of the conference — the majority in the conference — declared and continue to declare that they will not set up a Third International. The Italian paper Avanti and the Berner Tagwacht, the organ of R Grimm (the leader of the Swiss Socialists), endeavour to prove that the ‘International Socialist Commission’ created by the conference is not intended in any way to replace the old ‘International Socialist Bureau’ and must indeed result in its resuscitation. Nevertheless there is a logic of events... The day will come when all true socialists will join with us in crying: ‘The Second International is dead and was destroyed by the opportunists. Hurrah for the Third International free from opportunism!’
In his own observations on the conference Lenin admitted the weakness of the Left at the same time that he claimed a ‘success’ for it. He wrote:
The success of our policy is unquestionable. It is only necessary to study the facts. In September 1914, when it issued its manifesto, our Central Committee was in a similarly isolated position. In January 1915 the International Women’s Conference passed its miserable pacifist resolution... In September 1915 we united to form a single group out of the left wing of international socialism, adopted our own tactics, proclaimed our fundamental principles in a common manifesto, and assisted, despite the opposition of the old bureau and by means of a manifesto which condemned its policy, in establishing an International Socialist Commission which is in fact a new International Socialist Bureau... As early as 1912-14 an overwhelming majority of the Russian workers already supported our party and its Central Committee. Their experience of the international socialist movement will now demonstrate to them that our policy will soon come to have a broader basis and that our principles will be shared by an ever-increasing proportion of the best elements in the international proletariat.
A very important idea for the first time makes its appearance here: Lenin is determined to show his supporters among the Russian workmen that they have sympathisers and allies outside Russia, and he is prepared to prove this to them by placing a tortuous construction upon events.
The report on the Zimmerwald Conference contained in the illegal ‘Spartacus Letter’, circulated in November 1915 by Rosa Luxemburg and her followers, is very typical of the attitude then prevailing towards Lenin and his ideas. In a report covering almost four pages of print only a single passing reference is made to Lenin and his supporters: ‘An alternative draft for the projected manifesto was put forward by the Russian members of the Central Committee, a Polish delegate and the Norwegian and Swedish delegates. The great majority of the conference rejected the draft as a tactical error.’ Nothing more. The Spartacists — followers of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg — were then the most extreme socialists in Europe. It is obvious that they regarded the Bolsheviks as an insignificant minority in the ranks of the international opposition to the prosecution of the war.
In prewar days the ‘International Socialist Bureau’ typified the international solidarity of the labour movement. The war paralysed its activities. The question therefore became one of what were the aims to be pursued by the opponents of the political truce and the war itself: should they restore the old International or destroy it and found a new one? Those who supported the resuscitation of an international bureau on the old model were thereby supporting the continued existence of the Second International. The majority in the Zimmerwald Conference were opposed to a cleavage and expressly announced that the new executive organ they had called into being — actually an Italo-Swiss international commission — was not intended to replace the old bureau but only to act temporarily as its substitute.
At Easter 1916, the members of the Zimmerwald Conference met for a second time at Kienthal in Switzerland, the composition of the conference being little changed from what it had been on the former occasion. Representatives of the movement later known as the USPD, delegates from the Spartacus Union and a representative — Paul Frölich — of a left-wing radical group in Bremen came from Germany. Russian and Polish, Swiss and Italian delegates were present. France and Serbia were also represented. The left wing of the Zimmerwald Conference was represented by the Bolsheviks, their Polish sympathisers, Paul Frölich and a few Swiss delegates. In his attack on pacifism, however, Lenin found himself supported by some members of the majority in the conference. In the decisive issue of support for the Second or for a Third International, that is, the establishment of an international socialist bureau, the voting led to no conclusive result. Ultimately the conference passed a non-committal resolution, in which it declared its resolve not to demand the establishment of the bureau but left it to the individual socialist groups to demand it. In other words, the majority of the conference remained faithful to the Second International. Even after the Kienthal Conference Lenin had no real following in England, France or Italy, and in Germany his supporters were confined to isolated individuals or small local groups. His views did not gain the support of any one of the great German proletarian movements. This lack of sympathy with Bolshevism outside Russia continued to exist until the triumph of the revolution in Russia.
Zinoviev expressed himself as follows on the subject of the Kienthal Conference:
The second [Kienthal] conference unquestionably marks a step forwards. The influence of the left wing was greater than it had been in the conference at Zimmerwald. Prejudice against the left has diminished in strength. Is it possible, however, to affirm that the Rubicon has been crossed? Can one say that the conference has finally decided upon a breach with the official socialist parties? Is Kienthal the birth-place of a Third International? No! That cannot conscientiously be maintained... Let there be no illusions! A strong right wing exists among the members of the conference. Nobody can prophesy if it will remain on our side... What then? Fight on for our ideals! Fight on for the cause of revolutionary socialist democracy! Fight on for the Third International!
Although they themselves were under no illusions, Lenin and Zinoviev upheld for the sake of their Russian supporters the fiction that they were the leaders of a great international proletarian movement. After the Kienthal Conference, however, the ‘Spartacus Letters’ prove that the resolutions and votes in conferences of party leaders are worthless and that any great mass movement is of more value than any number of conferences. Nevertheless, these conferences at Zimmerwald and Kienthal saw the birth of the Third International.
The smaller his success in Western Europe the greater became Lenin’s personal hatred of the working-class aristocracy and its leaders. Ill-success only spurred him on in his fight with them. All who stood in his way became his enemies. He hated the Russian patriotic socialists as much as pacifists, Kautsky’s supporters, and the right wing in the conference. In a word, all socialists who refused to organise revolution and dissension while condemning the prosecution of the war. In an article written in October 1916, Lenin cited certain sayings of Marx and Engels, in which they had spoken very correctly of the transformation of a part of the English working class of their day into members of the middle class. Lenin proceeded to generalise from their statements. He declared that the appearance of ‘middle-class labour parties’ had become typical of all imperialistic countries — parties whose members were infected by the virus of imperialism. Comfortable and lucrative positions had been created for peaceful, patriotic workmen and officials who were content with reforms. In this manner an imperialistic middle class tempted and rewarded supporters of the ‘middle-class’ labour movement:
It is a fact that a middle-class labour party has made its appearance as a political factor in all progressive capitalist countries. Hence it is useless to talk of a war against imperialism, or of Marxism and a socialist labour movement, without being prepared for a ruthless struggle with these parties... Nothing leads us to suppose that these parties will disappear without a socialist revolution.
Kautsky and his supporters did not indeed constitute an independent movement. Their ideas were rooted neither in the masses nor in the privileged class of those workers who had deserted to the middle class. The danger implicit in Kautsky’s programme lay in his attempt to reconcile the proletariat with the middle-class labour movement in order to increase the authority of the latter movement: ‘If we wish to remain socialists, it is our duty to descend to the true masses. It is for that reason that we wage war on opportunism.’
It has already been pointed out above what consequences were entailed in this descent to the ‘true masses’ on the part of Lenin and his followers. A party might in this fashion be kept in existence. The control of the state machinery could never be won. Of course, it is possible that for the moment Lenin was chiefly concerned to gain supporters in Western Europe for the idea of a world revolution and to put forward any sort of plan in opposition to the programme of the old official Social-Democrat Party. Mistakes in tactics and errors in doctrine on the part of these non-Russian revolutionary parties could later be corrected by the central authority directing the world revolution. Lenin certainly did not overestimate the rate of progress of the revolutionary socialist movement in Central and Western Europe. In a speech which he delivered to young Swiss working men on 22 January 1917, Lenin said: ‘We who are already old may perhaps not live to participate in the decisive battle of the coming revolution.’ Nevertheless, he hoped that the young European socialists would prove victorious in the coming proletarian revolution.
Two months later Russian workmen deposed the Tsar.