Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M 1918

The Bankruptcy of the Second International

Source: The Call, 9 May 1918, p.2, (1,341 words);
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

The war has shown the inner rottenness of the Second International. It showed at the very beginning that, in spite of all international con­gresses, all resolutions, hymns and cries: “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” there was no inner cohesion in the International, no real solidarity of thought and sentiment among its various members, and even no common policy on the most vital problems of international Socialist action. On that everybody is now agreed — alike those who are savagely attacking one another from the opposite national camps and those who alone have remained true to Socialist Inter­nationalism.

Yet even this obvious, patent collapse did not reveal to us the entire extent of the hollowness of the Socialism of the Second International. It required the Bolshevik Socialist Revolution in Russia to demonstrate the absolute demoralisa­tion of our Socialist parties and the utter bank­ruptcy of their creed. Granted for the sake of argument that the Bolshevik Revolution was “in­opportune.” You remember the biting words of Lissagaray about the eunuchs” of revolution, after the style of Louis Blanc “& Co.,” who used to find everything “inopportune” that was done by the masses of the people and their revolu­tionary leaders, from the rising of the Parisian populace against the “engrossers” in 1791 down to the Commune of Paris in 1871? “Inopportune” is a convenient word to cover one’s cowardice and reactionary sympathies. But supposing the Bolshevik Revolution was “inopportune.” So had Marx and Engels regarded all revolutionary attempts of the French people while the Prussians were still at the gates of Paris as dangerous and reprehensible. On September 12th, 1870, Engels wrote to Marx: “I wish something could be done in Paris to prevent the workers from rising before the conclusion of peace … If they should rise and win, they would have to assume the legacy of Bonaparte and the present bourgeois Republic, and would be uselessly massacred by the German armies …. That would throw us all back half a century and so confuse everything that every­body and everything would be in the wrong place, and then the national hatreds and the reign of the patriotic phrase!” Marx himself, in the mani­festo issued by the General Council of the Inter­national on September 9th, 1870, warned the workers of France that “any attempt to over­throw the existing Government in the midst of the terrible crisis of the country would be desperate folly.” Yet we know what happened. When the workers of Paris did rise five months later and proclaimed the Commune, Marx and Engels and the International as a whole threw themselves heart and soul into the movement and supported it with all the means at their disposal. That was the way of revolutionary Socialists, more especially of Marx and Engels, the clearest-headed thinkers and coolest observers of that time!

The Commune of Paris was a mere child’s affair in comparison with the tremendous revolu­tion carried out by the Bolsheviks and sanctioned by the working and peasant classes of Russia, that is, eighty per cent, of its population. But what did our modern “revolutionary” Socialists do? They ran away from it, as the “Extreme Left” did on the proclamation of the Commune of Paris. All those who had been shouting at the end of every public meeting: “Long live the Social Revolution!” and wrote and spoke so eloquently and learnedly about the “day” and the “morrow” of the Social Revolution, turned tail and went over bag and baggage into the counter­revolutionary camp as was done before them by those Radicals who deserted wholesale to the Versaillese on the establishment of the pro­letarian government in Paris. How true this is of the Russian Socialists of the so-called Men­shevist and Socialist-Revolutionary schools can be seen from the scurrilous manifesto issued by their Stockholm representatives against the Bol­sheviks and published in “Justice” and “Forward.” How true this is of the German Socialists (the official Majority) can be seen from the fact that when recently our comrade Petroff went to Berlin and gave an interview to “Vor­warts,” one of the first questions put to him with obvious trepidation and anxiety was: Is it true that the Bolsheviks have confiscated capital? In fact, all over the world we see the bulk of Socialists not only deserting, but also turning against the Socialist Revolution in Russia, attack­ing its leaders as anarchists, charging them with all sorts of blunders and crimes, and even ques­tioning their personal honesty and political good faith. In many cases they openly express their regret at the overthrow of Tsardom as the initial cause which has opened the sluices of anarchy and brought about the rule of the Bolsheviks!

On the whole, the Bolshevik revolution, even more than the war itself, has come as the great test showing us the extent of base alloy in the Socialism of to-day, for while the war has tested it in respect of Internationalism, which under circumstances showed itself to be a garb for mere pacifism, the Bolshevik Revolution has acted as the effective test in respect of its proper Socialist nature. It has since then appeared that a num­ber of so-called Internationalists like Gorki in Russia, Kautsky and Bernstein in Germany, Robert Grimm in Switzerland, the “Kienthalers” and even Rappoport in France are partly pacifists and partly opportunists who shrink back when­ever they find themselves confronted with the living idea of Socialism and with the necessity of passing from theory to practice, from words to deeds. And one may feel assured that whenever a similar situation, either through the courageous initiative of certain leaders or through the spontaneous action of the masses themselves, should arise in the countries west of Russia, be it Germany or France or our own country, we should witness the same stampede of “Socialists” into the capitalist camp and the same unanimous attack upon the authors of the Revolution and the Revolution itself. Russia, indeed, has shown us our own future as in some magic mirror: the moment we and the masses make a Socialist revolution, the world will turn against us with the same fierce hatred as it did against the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Commune of Paris in 1871.

The truth is that just as not all who cry: “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, so are not all who shout: “Socialism, Socialism” fit to enter the kingdom of Socialism. So long as Socialism remains a mere doctrine many among us are prepared to accept it, because it is truth; and even, individually, die for it. But Socialism is also action, and when it becomes so, all the in­visible and unfelt strings which bind some of us with the capitalist class suddenly tighten and pull us away from it. This is especially true of Socialists who have come over to the workers’ camp from the capitalist class and who do not themselves know how real are the ties which bind them, intellectually, morally, and even economi­cally, with their own original class. When the great test comes, they all scatter in every possible direction, away from their own ideal, and gradually rally in one combine for counter-revolutionary action against Socialism. Their Socialism is but an intellectual conviction or a matter of philan­thropic sentiment, and it snaps when it has to justify itself by deed.

For the future of the International, this fact is of capital importance. If the International is to be resuscitated it cannot again assume the same form as before, and its character will be entirely different. Those elements in the Socialist world who have failed to pass muster at this combined test of the war and the Bolshevik Revolution will either prove unable to come together internationally at all, or, if they do attempt to meet, will offer to the world a spectacle so sickening in hypocrisy and futility as to be rejected by all genuine Socialists and the bulk of the working class. The future International will either be the International of Revolutionary Socialists or there will be none at all.