THE Second International was the product of two correlated processes, namely, the rise to leadership within the labor movement of the modern skilled workman in large-scale industry, and the shift of the international labor center to the heavily industrialized countries. From this we can see how different the Second International was from the First, and how the Socialists differed from the Anarchists.

We have already noted that, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the articulate section of labor was mainly the artisan and mechanic, the petty bourgeoisie led the radical and revolutionary movements. Between 1848 and 1870, the mechanic had his fling; he dominated the Communist League and the First International and led the way within revolutionary workers’ organizations. The period culminating in the Paris Commune saw the end of his hegemony, as his crafts gave way to large-scale production and the skilled worker took his place.

In the 80’s and 90’s of the last century, the skilled worker made his views heard. He had not been able yet to win the concessions and the standards to which he felt he was entitled. Disgruntled, therefore, he was capable of taking the lead in widespread strikes to which unskilled laborers were attached. Through the violence and the savagery of the unskilled, the skilled workers finally compelled the employers to arbitrate. Once better conditions were granted for the skilled, this privileged group was ready to abandon the unskilled to their fate.

The unskilled, relatively helpless and inarticulate, could not yet express their own interests or form their own organizations. Wherever the unskilled moved, it was the skilled who led, organized, and dominated them, whether in the Haymarket affairs of the 80’s in the United States, in the American railway strike of the 90’s, in the dockworkers’ strike and “New Unionism” in England, or in the movements of the continent.

It was the modern skilled workmen first understanding their interests who joined the socialist ranks and flocked into the socialist parties. If they talked and acted in a revolutionary manner it was only until the employers were persuaded sufficiently to accede to their demands. This the employers were ready to do since, in the imperialist era, they could well afford to drop a few crumbs from their loaded table to harness the skilled workers to their interests.

Connected with these skilled workers were large layers of the petty bourgeoisie who also felt the weight of trustified capital, who also had been uprooted by the advance of imperialism and who meant to seek security by attaching themselves to a militant workers’ movement. The petty bourgeoisie was well aware, especially after 1871, that only the proletariat could lead the way. Large numbers of white-collar workers and employees of all sorts affiliated themselves with the socialist parties. The Socialist parties thus, in the main, were composed of skilled workers interspersed with considerable numbers of the petty bourgeoisie. Of course, unskilled workers could not be kept out entirely from the socialist parties, where they formed a Left Wing, later to split into communist parties. The unskilled workers stood for revolution, for the smashing of the capitalist State.

The socialist movement, therefore, soon found itself with three distinct Wings. The Right Wing, composed of the skilled workers and employees, merely wished an extension of democracy, suffrage, civil liberties, and social security for themselves, although they bound up their immediate program with vague theories of ultimate control. These well-fed workers’ sections were content to drift, to conceive of socialism as a means to perfecting individualism, as a peaceful, gradual process of social reform.

The Left Wing expressed the misery and oppression of the poorest layers of the population, the unskilled workers in the factories and general laborers. These elements could not wait. They felt keenly the pressure of capitalism. They wanted action.

Between these stood the vacillating Centrist faction, composed of variegated groups of an entirely ephemeral existence. Capitalism constantly was throwing divers categories of the skilled and petty bourgeoisie groupings into the ranks below. Contrariwise, it sometimes raised the standards of others. Centrism was the reflection of these movements; it adopted a revolutionary philosophy in appearance similar to that of the Left Wing, but in reality closely bound up with the Right Wing that still believed it had a stake in society and did not wish the immediate and direct overthrow of capitalism.

The struggles between these three wings often led to breaks in the ranks of the socialists, the schisms assuming different forms and rates of development according to particular circumstances. At other times the divisions were only latent. On the surface, there was unity and harmony only until severe events tested the party; then the Right and Left Wings faced each other in deadly combat.

In Russia the split occurred very early, in 1903, and was never healed. In Germany no split occurred until the World War. Apparently the orthodox Marxists here dominated the scene and the Right Wing revisionism of Bernstein was supported only by a minority. This was, however, but an illusion. What appeared Left was in reality a Centrist grouping which had not expelled the revisionists because it was too close to Bernstein and the other opportunists. When the critical moment in 1914 came it was found that, in effect, the Socialist Party was controlled through and through by the opportunist elements and not by revolutionary Marxists. In France the split occurred earlier. The Guesdists represented in their own immature way the Left Revolutionary Wing; the Jaur’es group, the extreme Right. However, by 1905 the continued capitalist prosperity induced both sections to fuse. When the war came in 1914 it was found in France, too, that the Right Wing overwhelmingly won the day.

Thus it was throughout the whole Second International. Vaguely and abstractly the skilled workers talked of revolution, but they could not carry it through and at every critical moment their actions were confused and bewildered. They lost countless opportunities and betrayed their cause innumerable times. In truth, the skilled workers could not understand Marxism. They could become opportunist socialists, but they could not reach the level of revolutionary communism.

In the days of the First International, the advanced workers were able to see clearly their cause and to enunciate boldly their general platform for socialism. They had the will to form conspiratorial groups that would attempt to storm the heavens. After the defeat in France, and by the time of the Second International, the will was gone. The skilled worker had improved his lot considerably and had been separated cleverly from the mass of rebellious poor. The vanguard mechanic of the First International, struggling against a relatively new order and infused with the dramatic fervor of the revolutions of the past, could conceive that at one stroke he and his fighting minority could take control of the State and end the capitalist system. The skilled workers later on understood far better the enormous weight of the industrial system pressing on them. They realized that the revolution was a harder job, indeed, than the earlier mechanic had imagined and they paled before the task. If they still talked of revolution and of socialism, the abstract theory was far removed from the day-to-day practical reforms suggested.

The Second International was dominated by the proletarian sections developed in the great industrial countries. Now Germany took the lead of the world movement; the backward agrarian countries had to play a secondary role. The domination of large-scale industry internationally also accounts for the fact that even in backward agrarian countries where the artisan and craftsman still play a considerable part, as in Spain, Italy, etc., the Anarchists can no longer prevail, and they yield to the Socialists. Only in Spain does Anarcho-Syndicalism dominate for any length of time. In Italy, in France and elsewhere, the authoritarians more and more take over the movement. After the middle of the nineteenth century, the petty bourgeoisie in prosperous countries had embraced Liberalism, and in backward agrarian countries discontentedly had turned to Anarchism; by the end of the nineteenth century, both in the industrial and in the backward countries, the small property elements following labor joined the socialist cause in increasing numbers.


Soon after the formation of the Second International, the Right Wing mobilized its forces for an open attack against revolutionary Marxism. Heretofore there had been piecemeal attacks against the body of Marxist opinions, coming chiefly from the ranks of the capitalist class but also from revolutionary elements. Bakunin, for instance, said that in economics he was a Marxist, but not in politics, and this was the opinion of some of the syndicalists. Others maintained that they could not agree with the philosophy of Marx. Still others disputed the economic theories of Marx, although agreeing with the program of the class struggle.

It was left to the German Right Wing, under Eduard Bernstein, who waited until the death of Friedrich Engels before opening fire, to attack revolutionary Marxism from top to bottom, from its philosophy to its organization practices. This German movement to revise Marxism was given the name of Revisionism and soon became an international tendency wherever socialism was a force. While in each country the Revisionists emphasized different aspects of the struggle and formulated their attacks to meet national peculiarities, nevertheless, as a whole, they were united on the basic propositions laid down by Bernstein. (*1)

Bernstein commenced battle with an attack against the theory of dialectical materialism, proposing instead the claims of the Kantian school of agnostics then flourishing in Germany. To Bernstein there was no inevitability or “must” in history. Socialism would come gradually, through education, and as an ethical “ought.” The Socialists should therefore appeal to ethics and to concepts of justice to attain their needs. The correct interpretation of history was not historical materialism, but rather the eclecticism which made economic forces only one of a number of equally important efficient causes in procuring events. Ideas and ideals played a role equal to material factors.

Since socialism was not inevitable, it was not correct to stress the final aim of socialism in the propaganda of the Socialist. One should never pretend to know final aims, hut only the current events. And with the slogan, Movement is everything, the final aim of socialism nothing, Bernstein attempted to restrict the Socialists to social reform and to day-to-day demands to improve their lot. They must not struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an entirely new system of society.

Bernstein then proceeded to attack the economics of Marx. The theory of value as labor was to him misleading and abstract; he preferred the Austrian school of economics which stressed psychology and the subjective factors of consumption rather than employed the objective criteria of the labor school. Here again Bernstein moved away from labor to express the subjective vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie, and tried his best to conceal the creation of surplus value from the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists. The class struggle, therefore, had no economic foundation.

But it had been not merely the statical analysis of political economy as laid down by Marx which Bernstein scorned. Above all, the dynamic laws of motion which Marx had revealed came in for his greatest attack. Marx had predicted that the gap between the capitalists and the workers would widen and that the strain on all social relations would increase to a bursting point culminating in cataclysmic revolution. Bernstein attempted a systematic refutation of this position. He declared, first, that capitalism was getting better and better. The workers were improving their standards. The middle class was not decreasing as Marx had predicted, but increasing. "It is thus quite wrong to assume that the present development of society shows a relative or indeed absolute diminution of the number of the members of the possessing classes. Their number increases both relatively and absolutely.” Bernstein denied that agriculture showed a standing still or a direct retrogression in regard to the use of holdings. He further called attention to the widespread distribution of stocks, bonds, and profit-sharing schemes of all sorts, in which sections of the workers were sharing. Thus, as regarding both industry and agriculture, Marx’s forecast of the withering away of the older elements of the middle class was incorrect. Here again Bernstein idealized the lower middle classes.

To Bernstein, cartels and monopolies, coupled with the extension of credit, were making crises less and less severe and steadily reducing their effects, Capitalism could be controlled, crises foreseen and mitigated and finally abolished. In a period of rising general prosperity, how ridiculous seemed Marx’s prognoses of calamities!

Such views in economics existed side by side with corresponding opinions as to politics. Bernstein would have nothing to do with the idea of revolution or insurrection. The term, “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” was to him an unfortunate phrase which must be dropped. The Socialist movement should not attack the Liberals too severely. Indeed, Socialism was but the legitimate heir of Liberalism and continued the tasks of that great historical movement. Liberalism was no obstacle to Socialism, but a good starting point. “There is actually no real liberal thought which does not also belong to the elements of the ideas of socialism.” Socialism could be called “organizing Liberalism” because Socialism, too, freed the individual who must be the basic starting point.

The conquest of power which the workers were to undertake was conceived as being accomplished in two opposing ways, by the path of parliamentary contention, turning the right to vote to good account, or by the path of plots and revolution. Marx and Engels had taken the latter path clearly; Bernstein could only take the former. Democracy was not a type of class State, but was above all classes and was the indication of a social condition wherein political privilege belongs to no one class as opposed to the whole community. “The right to vote in a democracy makes its members virtual partners in the community, and this virtual partnership must in the end lead to real partnership.”

Bernstein was willing to admit that in preceding eras violence had been necessary; for example, the rigid feudal organizations of the old regime had to be destroyed by violence. But the flexible Liberal organizations of the nineteenth century did not need violence to effect necessary changes. A revolutionary dictatorship was totally unnecessary. In his espousal of the Commune, Marx had exposed himself as only following the petty bourgeois Proudhon in his attack against the French State. The State was not to be attacked and overthrown. It was to be won over to socialism gradually and peacefully, labor being able to use the State for its own purposes. Like Lassalle, Bernstein did not believe that the State was to wither away or that all government was dictatorship.

Along with his idea that the revolution was far away and must come peacefully, Bernstein expounded a theory that the working class was not a homogeneous group, since many workers had property, and the skilled workers were widely divorced from the unskilled. Neither the skilled nor the unskilled had sufficient training as yet to manage the factories. If socialism meant that the workers were to take over the factories and run them, then it meant, too, that they should learn how to manage them under the period of capitalism. The workers needed a long apprenticeship in economic management. This could be secured through the co-operative and trade union movements. Thus, against the need of insurrection Bernstein put forth the practice of functioning in co-operatives and trade unions. The trade unions were not armies of men to help destroy capitalism. “The trade unions are the democratic element in industry. Their tendency is to destroy the absolutism of capital, and to procure for the worker a direct influence in the management of industry.” The trade unions, then, were to co-operate with the employer, gradually to obtain a share in the management of industry.

Above all, Bernstein praised the co-operative for training the worker for the responsibilities of management. He took advantage of the fact that in the First International, Marx, in order to win the divers elements to his side, in the beginning had praised the co-operative movement and had recommended to workmen that they embark upon co-operative production rather than the establishment of co-operative stores, since the latter touched only the surface of the economic system, while the first struck at its foundations. (*2) The co-operatives provided the steps whereby the workers would learn how to manage property; to be, not only little storekeepers, but foremen and technicians in productive schemes to be established. These producers’ co-operatives would gradually grow into a Socialist system.

It was not equitable, according to Revisionism, for the Socialists to advocate that the workers take over the factories without paying the employers. Expropriation without compensation was robbery. It was against Kantian ethics. Eschewing all such violent tactics, the Social Democratic Party would increase in power only if it appeared openly what it really was, namely, a democratic Socialist Party. Here Bernstein made an extremely vital criticism of the German Social Democrats, exposing the fact that the leaders of the Party were really in agreement with him, that they really stood for reform and not for revolution, and that they, too, believed that Marx had been far too much a slave to doctrine and to document and was really utopian in essential points. They, too, agreed, at bottom, that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat meant a dictatorship of club orators and writers, and that the evolutionary way was far better than the revolutionary way.

As Bernstein himself put it, the difference between him and the official leadership under Kautsky was that he spoke what he believed openly and did not hide behind an apparent agreement with the orthodox views of Marx. Thus Bernstein could raise his famous slogan, “For Kant against cant!” Time was to show that here, indeed, Bernstein was one hundred per cent correct, and that the very people who defended Marxist revolutionary ideas were only reformists in disguise. Ironically enough, this was to be proven at the very moment when Bernstein had recanted and declared that the events of the World War had thoroughly justified Marx’s position.

How correct was Bernstein’s estimate of the others was to be seen in certain practical questions that came up before the German Party. Marx had declared that the proletariat had no fatherland. Bernstein argued this might have been true in 1847 when the workers had no vote, but it was not true now. Not only should the German workers defend the Fatherland, but they should strive to obtain colonies such as those in China, in order to protect the Chinese from the lack of culture of other countries. In defense of his position, Bernstein pointed out that the very leadership of the German Social Democracy was in agreement with him. Bebel had openly declared that in case of attack by Russia, German Social Democracy would rally for the defense of Germany. The so-called Marxist, Hyndman, in England had argued in the same way in behalf of the British navy.

Thus Bernstein could prove that, in these policies, the official leaders of the Socialist parties in the Second International were really knifing their own revolutionary program, but, since their practical politics was correct, in self-justification they would have to adopt the theories of Revisionism which alone were inextricably intertwined with their daily opportunism.




The theories of Revisionism dominated the socialist movement in practically all of the important countries of Western Europe and America. In France, the leader of the United Socialist Party was the opportunist, Jean Jaur’es. Understanding well the weight of the revolutionary past of the French, Jaur’es could not deny the value of the theory of insurrection. It was not for him to reject the glorious traditions of Babeouf and Blanqui which were cherished so dearly by the French workingman. Rather, Jaur’es undertook to show that conditions in 1906 were no longer the same as they were in Marx’s time. “Today, the definite form under which Marx, Engels, and Blanqui conceived the proletarian revolution has been eliminated by history. In the first place, the proletariat in its increased strength has ceased to count on the favorable chance of a bourgeois revolution… . It is not lying in wait for a bourgeois revolution in order to throw the bourgeoisie down from its revolution…. It has its own organization, and its own power…. It is not reduced to being an adventurous and violent parasite on bourgeois revolutions. It is methodically preparing, or better, it is methodically beginning, its own Revolution, by the gradual and legal conquest of the power of production and the power of the State… . The revolutionary period of the bourgeoisie is over.” (*3)

“Henceforward, middle class revolutionary action being over, all violent means employed by the proletariat would result only in uniting against it all non-proletarian forces. And that is why I have always interpreted a general strike, not as a method of violence, but as one of the most gigantic means of legal pressure that the educated and organized proletariat could bring to bear for great and definite ends.” (*4)

Thus, to the flexible Jaur’es, the general strike could not be for a seizure of power, nor for socialism, but only to bring legal pressure upon parliament for immediate reforms. The general strike was merely to be a warning to the ruling class to make concessions; it was powerless as a revolutionary method. Nothing could free socialism from the necessity of winning over the majority of the nation by propaganda and legal methods. Above all, since the days of bourgeois revolution were over, it was unthinkable that the proletariat should conduct one in its own name.

The fears of Jaur’es directly reflected the fact that in France the proletariat did not compose a majority of the population. He believed that the decisive elements were the petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasants. He conjured up before his eyes the terrific defeat that the workers had received in the Paris Commune through the fact that the bourgeoisie early was able to win the petty bourgeoisie to its side and to throw the countryside against the city. Jaur’es wanted to placate the petty bourgeoisie, the middle class public, believing that in this way only could the workers advance their interests. His particular opportunist theory, therefore, had much to do with the specific conditions existing in France.

The German opportunists, on the other hand, were much opposed to the general strike altogether. Jaur’es could conclude that the general strike should be not merely economic for demands against employers, but also political, as a pressure against the State; the German opportunists were against the general strike in any form. In France, the task was to lay down a theory that would control the general strike, limiting it only to pressure against the State and preventing it from either smashing the State or establishing Socialism. In Germany, the opportunists felt that the working class was so powerful that the general strike could not be limited or controlled easily. Once launched, even for economic demands, it would proceed logically to its revolutionary end of overthrowing the State and building a new society. Besides there was not in Germany, as in France, that spontaneity of action leading to the demand for the general strike.

The voice of Jaur’es was heard by the socialists in Belgium and in Scandinavia. There the opportunist socialists took advantage of the general strike movement of the workers to lead the strike in order to control it. Under their management the general strikes were merely for suffrage, for extension of workers’ democratic rights, or for some immediate reform.

It was the general opinion of even the opportunists that, where Liberalism was not allowed to flourish and where despotic absolutism not yet had been overthrown by the bourgeois democratic revolution, there the Socialists could legitimately advocate violent measures of procedure. In Russia, the opportunist socialists were also in favor of revolutionary action against the Czar, the difference between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks consisting not so much in their efforts to overthrow Czarism, as in their relationship to the capitalist class and its Liberal ideologies. Contrary to the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks took the position that it was the role of the Socialists to act as the coolies for the Liberals, to help them usher in capitalism in Russia. The proletariat was entirely too weak to take over power. Once capitalism was established in Russia, then the same peaceful evolutionary methods should be used by the working class as were proposed for other countries by Bernstein and other Socialists.

The struggle between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, however, was not merely a struggle as to what each would do in the future if and when Czarism was overthrown. The differences of perspective and program of the two groups led to entirely opposite tactics and organizational principles. Indeed, the split that occurred in 1903 between the opportunist Mensheviks and the revolutionary Bolsheviks was first of all on questions of organization which developed into questions of tactics, strategy, and program.

The defeat of the Russian revolution after 1905 brought the differences between the two groups to a head; from then on the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, both calling themselves Social Democrats, veered farther apart until, in 1917, they were to be found on the opposite sides of the barricades.

However, the Mensheviks always contained in their ranks a considerable number of Left Socialists who later on were to take an internationalist position. Between this Left group and the Bolsheviks was an intermediary Centrist layer of which the best expression was Leon Trotsky. In the 1905 Revolution this Centrist element played an exceedingly important role, Leon Trotsky becoming the virtual head of the first Soviet, formed in St. Petersburg. That the leading representatives of the Soviet could be Centrist was natural, considering the transition stage of the revolutionary movement at the time. Few were prepared for actual insurrection, all the limitations of a peaceful general strike had become thoroughly exposed. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote at the time from Warsaw: “Everywhere people are hesitant and in a state of expectancy. The reason for all this is the simple circumstance that the mere general strike alone has ceased to play the role it once had. Now nothing but a direct general fight on the street can bring about the decision, but for this the right moment must be prepared more carefully.” (*5) Rosa Luxemburg, who, apparently, was closer to the Bolsheviks than to the Trotsky Centrists, declared that precisely in St. Petersburg, where Trotsky was at the head, the direction of revolutionary forces was entirely inadequate. The insurrectionary flare-up occurred not in St. Petersburg, but in Moscow.

During the years of bitter repression, Trotsky’s vacillations between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks took a decided trend to the Right. This was revealed in the discussions of 1911 regarding the proposal for a joint conference of Russian Social Democracy. “Our friend Trotzki is revealing himself more and more as a bad actor…. He insults the Bolsheviks and the Poles directly as ‘party of splitters’ but has not one syllable to utter against Martov’s pamphlet against Lenin, which surpasses anything that has ever existed in point of meanness and baseness and which evidently aims at splitting the party.” (*6)


In the United States where, by 1912, the Socialist Party had attained a membership of approximately one hundred and eighteen thousand, the controlling element was the machine headed by Morris Hillquit. To Hillquit, the State must never wither away but must take on a socialist character. “The modern state, originally the tool in the hands of the capitalist class for the exploitation of the workers, is gradually coming to be recognized by the latter as a most potent instrument for the modification and ultimate abolition of the capitalist class rule.” (*7)

In the more democratic countries the necessary transitional reforms towards socialism were to be carried out gradually. Violence was only an accident of the social revolution; it was by no means its necessary accompaniment and it had no place in the socialist program. In line with this, the Socialist Party was completely silent on the question of whether to compensate the capitalists for their property or to confiscate without compensation. The Socialist Party in 1912 also expelled from its ranks all those who adhered to the precepts of the I. W. W., which included belief in the efficacy of revolution by force through the general strike and through the tactics of sabotage. The opportunist bureaucracy went to extreme lengths to place its finger on militant elements so as to expose them to the police. The I. W. W. to them was composed of scum, slum elements filled with agents provocateurs and police spies, whose sole game was to discredit the regular socialists.

The approach of the Socialist Party was well illustrated in its National Platform of 1904 where it appealed to the American people as the only movement whereby the liberty of the individual could become a fact. In its platform of 1908, it declared: “In this battle for freedom the Socialist Party does not strive to substitute working class rule for capitalist class rule, but by working class victory, to free all humanity from class rule and to realize the international brotherhood of man.” (*8) By such formulas the Socialist Party entirely avoided the question of the necessity of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

In its platforms the Socialist Party called for the enactment of a series of immediate demands which included such items as revision of the Constitution to give greater democracy to the people, the public ownership of trusts and utilities, reduction of hours, public works for the unemployed, inventions to be freely used by all, the abolition of patent rights and monopolies, and national labor legislation. Only in 1912 did the Socialist Party begin to include a demand for collective ownership, which to them meant public ownership by the State, and democratic management.

In its immediate demands the Socialist Party by no means separated itself from the Welfare-Liberalism or Radicalism prevalent at the time. For example, in 1912, the National Platform of the Progressive Party, headed by Theodore Roosevelt, came out for almost as many of the immediate reforms as the Socialists, and declared, “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.” (*9)

Similarly, in 1920, the National Platform of the Farmer Labor Party formulated a program as radical as that advanced by the Socialist Party of that year. It affirmed that a condition of economic servitude existed in the United States, where wealth was monopolized by a few; all power must be restored again to the people. It called for a repeal of criminal syndicalist laws and other wartime legislation. It demanded the abolition of imperialism at home and abroad, and the immediate recognition of the elected governments of the republics of Ireland and of Soviet Russia, the embargo on arms against these peoples to be immediately lifted. It urged the self-determination of all nations, and the withdrawal of American armed forces from the colonies controlled by the United States. It advocated democratic control of industry and the right of labor to an increasing share in the responsibilities and management of business, application of this principle to be developed in accordance with the experience of actual operation. It urged public ownership and operation. It demanded justice for the soldiers and a complete bill of rights for labor. (*10)

Compared to this, the tone of the Socialist Party platform of the same year was relatively milder, the platform addressing itself particularly “to all citizens who believe in political liberty and social justice.” The Socialist Party platform did not mention the lifting of an embargo against Soviet Russia and Ireland. It did not go to the length of proposing that the workers manage the industries, but called only for workers’ administration jointly with that of the government. Such nationalized industries were to be run, not for the benefit of the working class, but merely to give “’Just compensation and humane conditions of unemployment to the workers and efficient and reasonable service to the public.” (*11)

This situation was an adequate illustration of the type of Socialist parties that dominated the Second International. In fact, it was not socialism in the Marxian sense that they conceived, but at best, a sort of State socialism, and at worst, a pure and simple State capitalism with some degree of workers’ control.

Having fulfilled their duty by stating in their program that they adhered to the view that they desired the end of capitalism, the Socialists then completely divorced their program from their day-to-day activity. There was no connecting link between the daily practice and the ultimate theoretical goal. Thus, the present was cut off entirely from the future, and the working class was given a narrow, provincial, nationalist point of view, whereupon each group fought for its own immediate self-interest rather than for the enduring interests of the international working class as a whole.

In short, the First International was an international of program; the Socialist parties of the Second International were organizations interested mainly in tactics, that is, they were groups concentrating entirely upon the petty current struggle for immediate better conditions, and, in this day-to- day conflict, the Socialists revealed themselves as no better than the Welfare-Liberal Radicals. In fact, the Socialist parties were Welfare-Liberal parties in the ranks of labor to the programs of which was attached a Socialist ideal to distinguish them from the ordinary Liberals.

The value of the Second International consisted in that it attempted to organize large masses of workers and to give them the inspiration of struggling for socialism. The world was not yet ready for the international working class to embrace insurrection in its own right. The bourgeois democratic revolution was over, except in such countries as Russia; the period of proletarian revolution had not yet begun. In the interim, only the skilled workers were articulating their needs; behind them the unskilled workers were confusedly groping their way.

This transition period adequately was reflected in the structure and functioning of the Second International which was entirely limited by the class composition that filled its ranks, and by the material conditions of the time. Militarism had not yet let loose the mighty destructiveness of the World War to compel workers to action. Capitalism had not as yet matured sufficiently to allow the vast masses in the basic industries of the country to express themselves with their own programs and in their own organizations. It was evident that sooner or later a new international grouping would have to be formed, a grouping that would be able to connect theory with practice, to round out the program, to reach genuine communist levels, to develop the tactics into a system of struggle, not for palliatives to lull skilled workers to sleep, but for such concessions as would deepen and broaden the class struggle to its highest point.

Above all, there would have to arise an International that would be able to connect the tactics of the present with the program of the future by means of an adequate strategy. This strategy could appear only in an era when there would be placed before the revolutionary workers of the world the question of revolutionary action as the sole method to solve their immediate problems, when workers would not be able to win reforms except by revolution. Such a period could not. come before the war.


The Second International was formed in 1889. In that year two separate congresses were called in Paris. One was made up of British trade unions and French Possibilists; the other comprised the Guesdists, the German party, the Socialist Labor Party, etc. Shortly, both Congresses were induced to meet together and to fuse into one. They then indorsed the eight-hour day, recognition of May Day as an international holiday, and later, the establishment of an international labor code. Other congresses were held in Paris, 1891, Zurich, 1893, and London, 1896. In the course of this period the Socialist Parties were gradually systematizing their program and practical activities. As the congresses developed, they decided to include not only Socialist parties but trade unions as well; the Anarchists, however, were excluded.

In taking in the trade unions, the Socialists believed that they were following the line of Marx and the First International. This was not the case, however. It will be recalled that the trade unions in the First International had been given officially the standing of “affiliated” bodies only and not of members, unless the local unions were at the same time regular sections of the International. The decision to accept the reformist trade unions into membership was all the more inexcusable when we consider the difference in proletarian development in the 1890’s as compared with 1864. In 1864 the working class was but beginning to be aroused; the Marxist had no other line open to him but to form such a body as the First International and patiently work within it. By the end of the nineteenth century the situation was entirely different, powerful Socialist bodies existing in many important European countries.

The inclusion of the trade unions into the International meant that the International was not to be a revolutionary body in fact but a loose organization for immediate better conditions for the workers. This was seen also when the Second International permitted the British Labor Party to join, since prior to the World War the British Labor Party, while looking in the direction of socialism, had never officially committed itself to the socialist position.

Thus the Second International contained, on the one side, such elements as those represented by Lenin, or by Rosa Luxemburg, and on the other side, such groups as the British Labor Party and trade union reformists. Naturally, the Second International could not be a centralized disciplined body with full authority in its central committee. Instead, the Secretariat became a mere international letter-box, and the congresses represented futile discussion centers where resolutions could be adopted but no authority established. These resolutions were relatively unimportant since the national Socialist Parties had complete independence in everything. Thus the congresses could express the sentiment of various parties, but by no means could organize international action.

Here, too, we see a great distinction between the First and the Second International. The First International had erected an authoritative center that had attempted to centralize all groups and to formulate a uniform international policy. The Second International made no such effort. International solidarity was reduced to a minimum so that it was easy at the outbreak of the World War for people who had cheered each other in Socialist Congresses literally the day before to shoot each other down when the war broke out.

The Socialist leaders of the Second International were able to build trade unions of skilled workers everywhere and to unite them in a separate international center. After several attempts, there was established in 1901 through the International Secretariat of Trade Unions a trade union center which convoked a number of congresses: in 1901 in Copenhagen, in 1902 in Stuttgart, and in 1903 in Dublin, where the Secretariat was formally organized. Other congresses were held in 1905 in Amsterdam, 1907 in Christiania, 1909 in Paris, 1911 in Budapest, and 1913 in Zurich. In the last congress, the organization was renamed the International Federation of Trade Unions.

Only in 1910 did the American Federation of Labor join the International Federation. It demonstrated its Americanism by taking an extremely reactionary stand on almost all questions that appeared before the Congress. Its chief role was to denounce the I. W. W., to denounce French Revolutionary Syndicalism, to denounce the general strike, to denounce anti-militarism. It opposed the Socialist International. It fought against the separate admission of Canada, believing that country should be represented through the A. F. of L. Its sole effort was to prevent cheap European labor from attaining the shores of America and reducing the standards which the A. F. of L. had won for itself. The stand of the A. F. of L. during these years was marked by a complete lack of international solidarity. Following its own bourgeoisie, the A. F. of L. officialdom refused to concern itself with European affairs any further than to touch them with the extreme tips of its fingers and to keep them at arms’ length.

A considerable number of important questions came up before the Socialist International for discussion at its congresses. These questions revolved around the discussions on war and on Socialist participation in capitalist governments. Millerand was discussed in the Amsterdam Congress of 1904, which had followed the Paris Congress of 1900.

Three positions were put forward. On the one hand, Jaur’es and the Right Wing unequivocally endorsed the position of the Socialists in the government, even as exemplified by Millerand, where Socialists had to sit in the same Cabinet with the very General,who had taken the lead in shooting them down. Certainly, if Socialism was merely a continuation of Liberalism, then it was correct to form such a coalition government on the theory of gradually reforming the State until it became transformed in a Socialist direction.

On the extreme Left was the revolutionary position expressed in the opinion of Engels, who had advised the Italian Party to ally itself with the Radicals for the establishment of a republic or a bourgeois democracy, but under no consideration to take part in the government; as soon as the united forces were victorious, the Socialists were to break with their former allies and to form an opposition at once. Engels wrote: “After the common victory we might perhaps be offered some seats in the new government --- but always in a minority. Here lies the greatest danger. After the February Revolution in 1848 the French socialistic Democrats (the R’eforme people, Ledru Rollin, Louis Blanc, Flocon, etc.) were incautious enough to accept such positions. As a minority in the Government they involuntarily bore the, responsibility for all the infamy and treachery which the majority, composed of pure Republicans, committed against the working class; at the same time their participation in the government completely paralyzed the revolutionary action of the working class they were supposed to represent.” (*12)

Daniel DeLeon of the Socialist Labor Party, as well as Guesde of the French Socialists, took a leading part in complete opposition to the idea of Socialists joining with the capitalists in government.

Between these groups was the opposition of such elements as that represented by Kautsky, who was head of the German Party and in reality was head of the Second International. Kautsky took the position that one cannot give any absolute answer to the question of socialist participation in bourgeois governments; it all depended on concrete circumstances. By means of this vague formulation, therefore, Kautsky evaded the concrete question of the specific circumstances in France which had led to the betrayal of Socialist principles by Millerand. He evaded also the question of whether parties which stood for participation in bourgeois governments in such a manner as to destroy in effect the whole revolutionary essence of the movement could have a place in the Second International. In abstract phrase, it seemed that Kautsky had formulated correctly the revolutionary position. In reality, he concealed his alliance with the Right Wing, permitting the latter to flourish and to dominate the policies of the Second International.

Thus, in 1907, the Socialist Fabian Society could approve of the British government’s rough tactics in putting down the British railway strike. Thus, too, former French Socialists could break the general strike of the French railroad workers in 1910 by calling workers to the colors and threatening to shoot them as mutinous soldiers if they refused to work on the trains. The same Socialists who were so eager for peaceful methods proved themselves exceedingly ferocious against the workers once the opportunists were a part of the capitalist machinery. The Second International was democratic enough, evidently, to contain both revolutionists and police agents.

The question of war became increasingly important as the twentieth century advanced and was the chief topic discussed in the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 and the Copenhagen Congress of 1910. The demands upon which all were united included the abolition of standing armies, the limitation of armaments, publication of all treaties, international arbitration, a referendum vote of the people before war be declared or carried on. Socialists agreed also to refuse to vote for any war credits. At this point, however, sharp disagreement began to arise as each nationalist group began to defend its “Fatherland.”

In 1907, owing especially to the activity of Lenin and Luxemburg, a militant resolution was adopted declaring that the Socialists must “do all in their power” to prevent war and to wipe out war by abolishing capitalism. At the same Congress, however, the proposal for a general strike in case of war was voted down, as was the proposal for armed insurrection.

Thus, in phrases, the Second International adopted a militant resolution which could retain the loyalty of such communist elements as those represented by Lenin and Luxemburg. In actual concrete application, however, it refused to go even as far as the First International had gone in 1868, that is, to refuse to lay down the specific militant action of general strike or, armed insurrection. The Right Wing, therefore, lost nothing but a debate; in reality it won the day. In the meantime, a specious unity between the two irreconcilable Wings could be maintained, a unity irrevocably shattered by the war mobilizations of 1914.

The Socialists of the Second International declared that they were not bound to oppose a defensive war where a country was defending itself against an aggressor. However, it was entirely unable to define just what is a defensive war, and in practice the slogan: “No opposition to a defensive war,” played right into the hands of the imperialist militarists the world over. When the World War came, Socialists found themselves killing each other in the name of national defense and of Socialism. With the World War, the Second International collapsed.



1. All Revisionist opinions and quotations following are from E. Bernstein: Evolutionary Socialism.

2. This was the view of the Geneva Conference of the First International, 1866.

3. Jean Jaur’es: Studies in Socialism, pp. 59-61.

4. The same, pp. 62-63.

5. Luise Kautsky: Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, p. 98.

6. The same, pp. 160-161.

7. M. Hillquit: Socialism in Theory and Practice, p. 98.

8. For a reprint of the Platform see K. H. Porter: National Party Platforms, pp. 313-319.

9. For the platform see K. H. Porter, the same, pp. 334-349.

10. The same, pp. 435-442.

11. The same, p. 470.

12. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Engels to Turati, p. 523.