Max Shachtman


The Second International in the War

(August 1934)

From New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.43-47.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“To forget is counter-revolutionary.”
                            – OSKAR KANEHL.

“IF OUR resolution does not foresee any specific method of action for the vast diversity of eventualities,” said Jean Jaurès in urging the adoption of the famous anti-war resolution of the Second International at its special conference in Basel on November 24, 1912, “neither does it exclude any. It serves notice upon the governments, and it draws their attention clearly to the fact that [by war] they would easily create a revolutionary situation, yes, the most revolutionary situation imaginable.”

So the resolution did. The unanimous vote cast for the memorable document of Basel marked the highest point ever reached by the Second International. It was a solemn warning, not one syllable of which nurtured the illusion of “national defense”, that the allied socialist parties of the entire world would reply to an imperialist war as did the Parisian masses in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian war and the Russian workers in 1906 after the Russo-Japanese war.

The great betrayal of socialism in 1914 by the Second International consisted in trampling in trench-mud the Basel anti-war resolution and the whole of revolutionary socialist tradition. The main parties of the International had become so closely interwoven with the fate and interests of the capitalist fatherland that the declaration of 1912 was little more than a heroic echo of a revolutionary past. The vast institutions they had built up, the trade unions they had expanded, the steady growth of their parliamentary strength – all these conjured up in the minds of the socialist parties an idyllic picture of the cooperative commonwealth gradually emerging out of capitalist society without serious disturbances or convulsions. That a war would actually break out, seemed a remote prospect. How to combat it if it actually supervened, was a problem about which few cudgeled their brains. When the International made its last impotent gesture by, a special Bureau session at Brussels hastily convened after the Austrian ultimatum to Servia, “it is remarkable,” wrote Kautsky six later years, “that the thought! never occurred to anyone of us who was there to bring up the question of what to do if the war breaks out before then [before the special congress which was called for August 9] ? What position would the socialist parties have to adopt in this war?”

The fact is, as the Austrian chauvinist Karl Seitz pointed out, “The world war caught us unprepared.” Unprepared to act like revolutionists against the imperialist war, but thoroughly prepared to support it with jingo enthusiasm. Nor was the bourgeoisie unaware of the inclinations of its respective social democracies. Quite the contrary. And these inclinations were part of the calculations of the warmongers who were driving towards action at a terrific speed in those crucial days.

“I never had any doubts about the patriotic sentiments of the social democracy in the event of war,” read the memoirs of Victor Naumann, the intimate of the later Chancellor, Hertling, “and never understood the Berlin policy which constantly brought up the fearful question: will not the conduct of the social democracy, at the outbreak of a great war, produce severe conflicts in the interior which would be disastrous for the conduct of the struggle?”

In Berlin, six days after the ringing manifesto of the party leadership had proclaimed its opposition to the war which was clearly impending, the undeceived “war ministry released at 8 o’clock, July 31, with Nr. 64gg A 1 the following communication to the General Command: According to reliable information, the Social Democratic party has the firm intention of conducting itself in a manner becoming to every German under the present conditions.” (See the memoirs of General Wrisberg.)

The assurance of the War Ministry was better than well-founded. The dominant group in the party leadership and in the Reichstag fraction had already determined to support the fatherland in the war – to support it regardless of whether this view was supported by the majority or not. Hermann Mueller had been dispatched to Paris to feel out the French socialists. The Austrians and Russians had already announced their mobilization orders. Mueller proposed not to vote for war credits in the Reichstag if the Frenchmen would act similarly. “That we shall vote for the war credits, I consider out of the question.” Renaudel and his confrères were agreeable – unless “France is attacked”; then the party would vote like a man for credits. Mueller returned empty-handed.

The Reichstag fraction met with the party executive; Kautsky, among others, was invited to attend. The chauvinists prevailed. Kautsky could not summon enough courage to advocate a vote against the war credits; he proposed abstention. Neither the Left wing nor the Right would listen – so he proposed to vote for the credits with a “demand” upon the government for certain assurances! Out of several score votes cast, Liebknecht and his friends rallied a bare 14. By fraction discipline they were forbidden to vote against the credits in the Reichstag.

On August 4 the horrible tragedy occurred. Three days before the Kaiser had already pardoned his former opponents: “I know no more parties – I know only Germans.” In his throne speech he addressed himself to his minions: “Looking upon you today, honorable gentlemen, is the whole German people, rallied around its princes and leaders. Arrive at your decisions unanimously and speedily – that is my innermost wish.”

Amid applause from the Junker reaction such as had never before been vouchsafed it, the German social democracy replied to a man. Hugo Haase rose in the afternoon session of the Reichstag on August 4, the only speaker on the list, and read off the statement of the fraction which had previously been submitted for approbation to Chancellor Bethmann-Holweg! “Now we are making good what we have always stressed: in the hour of danger we do not leave the fatherland in the lurch.” The hall rang with tumultuous Bravos. For the first time in German history, the social democracy joined in the frenzied Hoch der Kaiser!

The Austrian social democracy, already up to its ears in the chauvinist swamp, cheered effusively. Austerlitz wrote Der Tag der deutschen Nation, his infamous editorial in the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung of August 5:

“Man by man the German social democrats voted for the loan. Like the entire international social democracy, our Reichs-German party, that jewel of the organization of the class conscious proletariat, is also the most vigorous opponent of war, the most passionate supporter of concord and solidarity of the people ... Never did a party act more grandly and loftily than this German social democracy which proved its worth at this extremely serious moment.”

For others it was harder to believe that the classic party of the Second International had committed so heinous a crime. Even Lenin, whose illusions were few enough about the German social democracy, could not bring himself to believe the report. “It cannot be, it must be a forged number,” he told Zinoviev when the first copy of the Berlin Vorwärts arrived in his Galician exile. “Those scoundrels, the German bourgeoisie, have especially published such a number of the Vorwärts in order also to compel us to go against the International.”

In Bucharest, the organ of the Rumanian social democracy, Rominia Muncitoare, condemned the report that Haase had approved war credits in the Reichstag as a “monstrous lie”, and to substantiate its view, proudly reprinted the anti-war speech which “Bebel’s successor” had delivered in Brussels only the week before. As late as August 13, it still wrote: “As to the Arbeiterzeitung, if it still exists, it must have passed into the camp of the Austrian officialdom in order to disseminate the government’s lies about the socialists.” Only at the end of the month did it accept as truth what was truth; it reprinted Haase’s declaration with a bewildered, stupefied comment.

“The war burst asunder the International, it was its first great victim,” wrote Friedrich Adler dejectedly. “The Second International is dead, the Third must be built,” said Lenin; and at that moment there were only two others to hear him, Zinoviev and Krupskaia. The International was dead – not just the German social democracy.

On July 29, 1914, the peerless Jaurès was still saying at Brussels : “As for us French socialists, our duty is simple; we have no need of imposing a policy of peace upon our government. It is practising one ... I have the right to say that at the present hour the French government wants peace and is working for its preservation.” Jaurès – Jaurès who had been second to none in laying bare the base diplomatic intrigues between France and Russia, but who could not elevate himself to an understanding of the motive forces of imperialist politics! As the words fell from his eloquent lips, the Russian ambassador at Paris, Izvolsky, was sending a telegram in code to Sazonov in St. Petersburg to inform the Czar that Viviani had given renewed assurances of the determination of France to act in full harmony with the Russians. Everything was ready for the European war, and Jaurès was in the toils of illusion. Three days later he was murdered by the assassin Raoul Villain as he sat with his friends in a restaurant.

On August 4, the French Chamber of Deputies also rang with an unprecedented unity. The whole socialist fraction joined in the vote for all the government measures, for war credits, for proclaiming a state of siege, for the suppression of free press and free assemblage. “It is a matter today of the future of the nation, of the life of France. The party has not hesitated,” exclaimed the manifesto of the party. “Spontaneously, without waiting for any other manifestation of the popular will, he [the head of the government] has appealed to our party. Our party has replied: Here!”

“On July 14,” read the cynical memoirs of L.-O. Frossard, patriot in 1914, Socialist party secretary in 1920, Communist party secretary in 1921, and patriot all over again now, in 1934, “we voted the resolution of Vaillant: Rather the insurrection than war! On July 31, we grabbed a rifle and ran to the frontiers crying: Vive la France!

On August 27, Marcel Sembat entered the cabinet of the Sacred Union as minister of public works, and Jules Guesde – Guesde the Master! the orthodox Marxist! – as minister without portfolio. Later Albert Thomas became under-secretary of state of munitions. Marcel Cachin took the place of Jaurès at the head of l’Humanité, and like the German chauvinist Suedekum who represented the Kaiser in flying trips to Italy, Rumania and Sweden, he was sent to persuade the Italian socialists to help the Entente; they gave him a cold reception, but he boasted on his return that the King of Italy had helped him on with his overcoat.

Vaillant, the old Blanquist whose articles in l’Humanité became so violently jingoist that even the editors felt constrained to eliminate them little by little, until he was completely silenced by death in 1915, wrote when the war began: “In face of the aggression, the socialists will fulfill their whole duty for the fatherland, for the republic and for the revolution.” “More than that,” answered the satisfied editor of Le Temps on August 4, “we do not ask of M. Edouard Vaillant and his friends.”

Each social patriot sought to outdo his fellow, and the bourgeoisie itself. “Come generals! We are giving you men, give us victories!” cried Compère-Morel. “We promise to fulfill our duty completely, as Frenchmen and as socialists faithful to the International,” came the pledge made at Jaurès’ grave by Marcel Cachin, who later fulfilled his duty just as completely under Stalin. “When seven French departments are invaded, when cities in the army zone, like those from which I write these lines, live under the constant menace of German cannon, it is impossible to say, be it only seemingly, to those who are fighting: we refuse you the means of defending yourselves,” wrote Frossard. “Cruel as the sacrifices for it are, the war must and will be pursued to its liberating finish. The finest, the most heroic army that France has ever had, seconded and supported by the firm resolve of the nation, will give her the victory that will be her salvation, the salvation of Europe, the salvation of the peoples, the salvation of democracy and socialism in the entire world,” were the prophetic words of Vaillant. “Who then is fighting against the work of national defense? (Who then is disinterested in the fate of the country? Is there then any incompatibility between the International and the fatherland ?” asked the same Paul Faure who in 1934 pledges himself so glibly to lead the French proletariat in the struggle against war. And Hervé who clamored at the Limoges congress in 1906 for a resolution declaring the need of replying to every declaration of war with a military strike and an insurrection, who exclaimed “We detest our fatherlands, we are anti-patriots!”, wrote a demagogic plea to the Minister of War on August 2, 1914, begging as a special favor to be sent to the front with the first infantry regiment “in spite of my myopia and my forty-three years”; in 1915 he changed his La Guerre Sociale into the chauvinist La Victoire.

The Belgian socialists took the same road. With the blessing of the party, Emile Vandervelde joined the reactionary clerical cabinet of his most august majesty, Albert, king of the Belgians and butcher of the Congo. Louis de Brouckère, who had served a term of six months in his youth for an anti-militarist article, quit the editorship of Le Peuple to join the aviation corps. Into the same nationalist wave plunged the young “radical”, Henri de Man, who enlisted in the army with the same enthusiasm with which he now seeks to enlist the radical Belgian proletariat for his equally treacherous “plan”.

In England, the Labour party was enthusiastically bellicose. Arthur Henderson, John Hodge, Brace and Roberts joined the government of National Defense. The Independent Labour party adopted a pacifist position, but its members in the Parliament never voted against the war budget. Ramsay MacDonald, who gained a reputation for opposition to the war, nevertheless wrote the mayor of his constituency, Leicester, endorsing the recruiting drive and spoke at the ILP conference in 1916 against expelling the chauvinists Clynes and Parker because he “was not going to say that men who had participated in the recruiting campaign should be turned out of socialist organizations”! H.M. Hyndman, who had advocated preparedness, together with Robert Blatchford, long before! the war, turned bitter-end patriot and wrote: “Everybody must eagerly desire the final defeat of Germany.” His party split in two, one wing forming the internationalist British Socialist party. H.G. Wells left his Utopias to swim lustily in the jingo pool and kept shouting for Germany to be put to the sword. Bernard Shaw cut a pitiful figure throughout: “We shall punch Prussia’s head all the more gloriously if we do it for honor and not for malice. Then, when we have knocked all the militarism out of her and taught her to respect us, we can let her up again.”

In Bulgaria, the leaders of the Right wing “Broad” socialists, Sakasoff, Pastukoff and Dsidroff concluded a civil peace with their bourgeoisie and entered the cabinet, first of Malinoff and then of Theodoroff. In Poland, the split in the ranks of the International was more favorable to the Left wing than in many other countries. After having denounced the reactionary Polish Club of the Austrian chamber as the “Shlakhzizenklubs”, the leader of the Polish Social Democracy in Austro-Hungary, Daszinsky, together with the other Austro-Polish social democrats, joined it in a burst of national enthusiasm. Together with the reactionary Polish Socialist party, they made open and common cause with the Hapsburg monarchy, established the Supreme National Committee of patriots, formed the Polish Legion with Josef Pilsudski at its head and fought for Polonia Irredenta. The Social Democracy of Poland and Lithuania (the party of Rosa Luxemburg and Jogisches), joined with the Left wing of the PPS and the Bund in an anti-war position and proclaimed: “The proletariat declares war upon its governments, its oppressors!” In Holland, all the Right wing socialists voted for military credits “for the protection of neutrality” – while the group of Gorter, Pannekoek, Roland-Holst and Wijnkoop (the Tribunists) took a militant internationalist stand. In equally neutral Sweden, the social democrats, allies of the tools of French imperialism, sent Hjalmar Branting and three other party leaders into the Eden cabinet; Branting later became president of the council. In Denmark, the social democrats, here the allies of the tools of German imperialism, permitted Stauning to accept a ministerial post in the bourgeois cabinet.

Treachery, opportunism, conservatism, chauvinism – these were the victors of the day. And not even the revolutionary traditions of the Russian movement rendered it immune from them.

Plekhanov, the scintillating Marxist, the godfather of the whole Russian party, the man with whom others broke but never ceased to admire, sank to the level of drummer-boy to czarist imperialism. “The marauders are at the borders of my country and are ready to rob and murder.” “Make your; reservations,” he urged the Duma deputy Burianov, “ – this is absolutely necessary – but vote for the credits. The rejection of the credits would be a betrayal [of the people] and abstention would be cowardice, vote for the credits!” The old man was for the imperialist war, for saving the French bourgeoisie in the name of the revolution of 1789, against the barbarisn of the German Junkers. Together with such Bolsheviks-turned-patriot as Alexinsky and Liubimov, he joined hands at Laussane in 1915 with turncoat Social Revolutionists like Avksentiev, Bunakov, Voronov and Argunov to launch the chauvinist paper Priziv.

The Mensheviks, those abroad in particular, under Martov’s leadership, took up an internationalist position, but they never strayed far from the Centrist camp of Kautsky. Trotsky, with a group of Bolsheviks and Left wing Mensheviks, took over the Parisian Nashe Slovo, fought for a revolutionary internationalist position until deported to Spain, but did not reconcile himself with the Bolsheviks until after the March revolution. Lenin and Zinoviev, speaking for the Bolshevik Central Committee abroad, in Switzerland, were like a voice crying in a mad, war-devastated wilderness for their far advanced, consistent revolutionary position.

Names which once commanded nothing but respect in the Russian movement were now associated with service in the camp of czarist imperialism. Parvus, as an exception, joined the service of German imperialism. Plekhanov, Alexinsky who later passed openly into the camp of czarism, Potressov, Mazlov, Cherevanin, Vera Sassulich, Ida Axelrod, to say nothing of the prince-regent of the anarchists, Kropotkin, all became social patriots. In Russia especially, the Mensheviks took an ambiguous Centrist position, or else became semi-pacifist, semi-collaborationists in the war. Outside of Russia, nobody could be found to support the drastic thesis of Lenin in favor of revolutionary defeatism, for a thoroughgoing break with the Centrists of all shadings – nobody. And even in the Bolshevik party itself, very few, certainly in the first period of the war, were those who stood by the Swiss exiles.

Hundreds of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks enlisted in the French army, fearing that a German victory would mean the end of European civilization. Another Bolshevik group, centered around Lunacharsky, published Vperiod in Switzerland, confining its program to the demands for peace without annexations or indemnities, general disarmament, and a United States of Europe. In the leading circles in Russia, matters were still worse. There the distinction between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks was often difficult to discern – at times for cause. In the August 8, 1914 session of the Duma, convened by the Czar to demonstrate the national unity of the Russians, the Menshevik Khaustov read a joint declaration of the deputies from both social democratic fractions, which declared their refusal to vote war credits. But, it added, in order to show that their refusal did not breathe the spirit of support for the Central powers, they would abstain on the vote – a position which instead breathed the spirit of support for Kautsky’s position. (The socialist deputy Manikov, who did vote for war credits and “civil peace”, was immediately expelled from the Menshevik fraction.)

In November 1914, the Bolshevik deputies, Badayev, Petrovsky, Samoilov, Shagov and Muranov, together with the representative of the Central Committee, Kamenev, were arrested at a secret meeting where Lenin’s startling theses on the war were just being considered. At the trial of the six, they declared that the theses were a draft, from abroad, but that they themselves were not in agreement with it. In their appeal against the verdict, all the defendants declared themselves expressly against points 6 and 7 in Lenin’s theses because they “contradicted the declaration which was read in the name of the two fractions on August 8” and moreover “were not shared either by social democratic deputies or by the central instances of the party”. Point 6 dealt with revolutionary defeatism as the lesser evil for the proletariat; point 7 dealt with the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war against the bourgeoisie! Yaroslavky’s history euphemistically dismisses the whole affair with the judgment: “It is true that not all the accused adopted an equally worthy attitude.”

In the United States, the party also divided into two main camps. With the war in its third year, the American Socialist party called an emergency convention in St. Louis at which the famous majority resolution was adopted, taking a militant attitude against the impending war. Except for Debs, Coldwell and a few dozen others, none of the leaders of the party outside of the militant Left wing, organized but tiny, ever allowed the majority resolution to leave the paper it was written on. The semi-patriotic, semi-pacifist minority resolution, signed among others by John Spargo, George H. Goebel, Cameron! H. King, Charles Edward Russell and the present party chairman, Leo Krzycki, really represented the course pursued by the authoritative party leaders in action – the legend of the St. Louis resolution to the contrary notwithstanding.

The extreme Right wing split off from the party, and with Phelps Stokes, Henry Slobodin, William English Walling, Charles Edward Russell, A.M. Simons, Alexander Howat, Louis Kopelin, John Spargo and several other patriots – many if not most of whom had but yesterday been the most insubmersible phrase-revolutionists – they formed the Social Democratic League and, together with the AF of L bureaucracy, the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy. Upton Sinclair, Haldemann-Julius, Leroy Scott and Robert Rives La Monte, who bemoaned the fact that he was too old to shoulder a musket, turned proper jingo.

The official party promptly forgot the St. Louis resolution. Meyer London, its lone Congressman, conducted himself disgracefully, never used the floor to attack the war, and confined his antiwar activity to voting in favor of or not voting against practically all the war measures and appropriations. The socialist aldermen in New York City voted for Liberty Bonds and a Victory Arch. The ousted New York state assemblymen protested their patriotism with a piteous earnestness that would have wrung tears from rock. Hillquit announced in 1917: “I do not advocate an immediate separate peace, a withdrawal by America. Nothing that I have ever said or written could justify such a sweeping assertion ... I want America to act, not to withdraw.” The National Executive Committee issued a manifesto in the same year saying: “We are not discouraging enlistments. We are not obstructing the conduct of the war.” And while Debs went to prison, the party’s struggle against war was entirely submerged and dissolved into then pacifist People’s Council – the League against War and Fascism of its day.

It seemed that the whole International had turned delirious with war fever. All the hidden jingoism of the socialist leaders came to the surface as the flames of war burned off the thin veneer of their Marxian phraseology.

The French, and Belgians and English became the most inflamed “jusqu’au boutistes” – bitter-enders. In Austria, Pernerstorfer took care to explain that the tiny anti-war minority was composed riot merely of academicians, but of Jews. Austerlitz wrote bloodcurdling leaders – “On to Paris” – in the Arbeiterzeitung. The Reichenberger Vorwärts under Joseph Strasser, the only paper in the dual monarchy to take a revolutionary position, was suppressed by the government and its place taken by a Right wing organ which outdid its Viennese model.

In Germany, social democrats went from patriotism to open imperialism. Heilmann, who demanded the conquest of the Baltic, shouted: “Let the eternally vacillating figures suddenly desire to play the strains of the International – as for me, I go to Hindenburg!” Meerfeld claimed that the rejection of annexations was un-Marxian. Landsberg explained that the annexation of Poland up to the Narev line was still far from a wild annexationist policy.

Not only the old opportunists, but many who had but yesterday distinguished themselves by a fiery oratorical or literary revolutionism overnight became just as fiery patriots – a somersault which was psychologically explained by Freidrich Adler, and not so wrongly as “Kriegsbegeisterung als Überkompensation der Insurrektionsgelüste” – war frenzy as an over-compensation of lust for insurrection. Heinrich Cunow, who signed the original antiwar protest of the Vorwärts editors, quickly leaped to the right, was later rewarded with Kautsky’s post as editor of Die Neue Zeit, and propagated the theory that imperialism was an inevitable and progressive stage of capitalism against which nothing could be done. Paul Lensch, another of the radicals who voted against war credits on August 3 in the fraction, soon occupied himself with proving by Marxism that the fraction could not have acted otherwise than it did. Konrad Haenisch, another of yesterday’s wordy radicals, described his own transformation in a rapturous paean which should never be forgotten:

“Not for everything in the world would I live again through those days of inner struggle! That impulsive ardent yearning to fling yourself into the vast stream of the general national flood-tide, and from the other side, the terrible fear of the soul to follow this yearning relentlessly, to surrender entirely to the mood which roared and raged all around you and which, did you but peer into your heart, had already long ago taken possession of your very insides! That fear: shall you not become a scoundrel to yourself and your cause – should you too feel the way your heart commands? Until at last – I shall not forget the day and hour – the terrific tension suddenly snaps, and you dare to be what you really were; until – despite all petrified principles and wooden theories – for the first time (the first time for almost a quarter of a century!) with swelling heart, with clear conscience, and without any fear of thereby becoming a traitor, you join in the tempestuous storm-song: Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles!

To swim against this stream – no, not a stream, a torrent! – how many were there? Internationalism was submerged, and true internationalists could be found only with the greatest difficulty. Only those with the stoutest hearts, only those inspired with the most deep-rooted conviction, believed that the International – the new International – could and would be rebuilt, that the) social revolution would rise triumphant from the blood-soaked trenches. And they were completely isolated!

Whatever opposition to the war manifested itself in the first period was for the most part pacifist, vacillatory, cowardly – in a word, Kautskyan. And even this tendency made little headway until it became clear that the prevalent optimism – “The war will last only three months!” – rested on self-deception. The Independent Labour party was overwhelmingly pacifist in its policy; the Communist movement finally emerged out of such tiny revolutionary anti-war groups as the British Socialist party, the Socialist Labour party, the Shop Stewards’ movement. In France, the predominant anti-war tendency was for a long time; that led by Longuet and his friends, for whom Woodrow Wilson was the new Messiah. Even the French Zimmerwaldians did not all stay with the revolution to the end. Of that little group which was so heavily influenced by Trotsky, few remained with the revolutionary movement. Merrheim, the most popular of the Zimmerwaldians, turned Wilsonian, and then became a violent enemy of Communism and the Soviets; Bourderon soon returned to the bosom of the social democracy; Brizon, who also became a Wilsonian, returned from Kienthal with the report that he had had “to defend France inch by inch against Lenin” and his thesis on defeatism; Monatte returned to syndicalism, and Loriot died as a Communist who withdrew to the position of syndicalism; Rosmer outlasted most of them, and then retired from active political life.

In Germany, the brave internationalists assembled around immortal Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht constituted only a handful, and even here it required all the persuasiveness at Rosa’s command to convince Liebknecht of the imperative need of breaking openly the discipline of the social patriots. The main stream of proletarian anti-war sentiment flowed in the channels of Centrism, and was vitiated by Kautsky and Bernstein. “We too wanted to bring about the speedy termination of the war,” wrote the former, “but not by means of a revolutionary rising, which seemed to us improbable ...”

In Italy, where the Socialist party took a militant anti-war position, where the patriots like Bissolati, Cabrini and, Bonomi, had already been expelled in 1912 for supporting the Tripolitan war adventure (expelled on the motion of Benito Mussolini!), the most authoritative leaders were unable, for years, to bring themselves to a separation from the Right wing and Centrist elements which would have permitted the speedy – the timely! – growth of a strong revolutionary party.

Only in a few parties did the revolutionary Marxists find support: among the Russian Bolsheviks, the courageous Servian socialists, the Rumanians, the Bulgarians, some of the Swiss and Scandinavians, the Hollanders, and very few others. As for the rest, the imposing idea of transforming the imperialist war into the war for the social revolution, took their very breath away. The thesis of revolutionary defeatism as the lesser evil for the proletariat, far from meeting with a favorable response, encountered savage attack. And most fantastic of all appeared the idea in which was concentrated the most urgent need of the revolutionary proletariat of that period: the irrevocable break with the Second International and the founding of the Third International. Even those who; would acknowledge that the former had failed, would not agree that it was bankrupt and had to be discarded. For the first years of the war, Lenin and the consistent Marxists were practically alone, and few, very few.

Twenty of history’s most amazing years have passed since the colossal tragedy of August 4, 1914. The working class is at the conjunction of three crucial processes: the Second International has succeeded in regaining if not its lost progressive character then at least the grudging support of millions of workers; the Third International has lost both its progressive character and the support of the masses who flocked to it in the early years after the war; the world is plunging with terrifying speed into the abyss of a new world war.

And because war is not merely inevitable under capitalism, but is actually impending as this is written. Because the Stalinist International is even less capable of leading the struggle against the new imperialist carnage than it was of leading the struggle against Hitlerism. Because the Second International remains true to itself and to its past, true to its bourgeois fatherlands, because tomorrow it will enter the service with the war-cry of “Democracy versus Fascism!” as it did twenty years ago with the war-cry of “Democracy versus Kaiserism!” or “Kultur versus Czarism!” – we in turn have raised the war-cry of “For the proletarian revolution to end imperialist war!” “For the Fourth International to lead the proletarian revolution!”

What the slogan of the Third International was in the last war, the watchword of the Fourth International shall be in the next: the rallying banner of all that is alive and vigorous in the proletarian movement, the avenger of the exploited and oppressed and martyred, the executor of the testament of our death, the intrepid challenger and deadly enemy of the ruling class and all class rule. And; it will have among its mottoes the stirring inscription on Schiller’s symbolic clock:

Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango.
I summon the living, I mourn the dead, I shatter the thunderbolts!


Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 17.11.2005