Like an enormous bomb hurled into the camp of the socialists, the World War with frightful rapidity completely destroyed the Second International. Whether the groups were Right Wing, sectarian Left, or Centrist, practically all followed into the camp of imperialism and, in one way or another, supported their national governments in the War. Only a small handful of the Left Centrists tried to carry into effect the beautiful resolutions that had been passed so unanimously before the outbreak of the War. Of this small group evolving to the Left only the Bolsheviks presented a genuine revolutionary communist position.

By 1914, the Socialist parties and labor movements had grown to enormous size. The Socialists and Second International alone had approximately twelve million members. (*1) The trade union movement had reached proportions in France and Italy of approximately a million members, in Germany over two million, in the United States close to three million, in the United Kingdom over four million. (*2)

The size of the co-operative movement may be judged by the figures regarding the British co-operatives. In 1914 they had a membership close to four million, capital three hundred million dollars, employees one hundred and fifty thousand, surplus at the end of the year seventy-one million dollars; the co-operatives owned fourteen thousand retail stores, fifty or more factories, two big wholesale distributing centers; their sales were approximately six hundred and fifty million dollars annually. They had the greatest tea warehouses in the world and vast tea estates in Ceylon; they owned a fleet of ships, fruit orchards, banks, buildings. They ran an insurance association. (*3) Movements of relatively similar proportions existed in the important countries on the continent. All of them hastened to support the War.

In France, the Socialist Party indorsed the call to arms with gusto, issuing the following manifesto: “It is the future of the nation. It is the life of France that is in question today. The Party has not hesitated. “Spontaneously, without awaiting a manifestation of the will of the people, the chief of the government has appealed to our Party. Our Party has replied, ‘Present.’

“Today as yesterday, after the first proofs, as in the enthusiasm of the mobilization, we know we are struggling not only for the existence of the country, not only for the grandeur of France, but for liberty, for the republic, for civilization.” (*4)

The French Socialist Party justified its nationalism on the ground that national defense coincided with the interests of the revolutionary movement not only of France but of the world. Should France be crushed, it would mean the end of the glorious revolutionary traditions of the French proletariat which had inspired the world, the end of that militant revolutionary theory and culture which the French working class had brought to such a complete fruition. The defeat of France would witness a complete victory of German Kaiserism and European reaction that would wipe out the whole revolutionary movement in Europe and plunge the world into new wars. These were the revolutionary phrases with which the Socialist Party, in an extremely efficient fashion, it must be admitted, mobilized the masses for war.

The French Socialists became thoroughly enamored with the logic of the Liberal democrats. The War was a war of democracy against German absolutism; it was a war of republican principles against monarchy. It was a war of progressive liberty against feudal reaction. They refused to consider the fact that behind France was the Russian Czar; that French democracy and Russian reaction would have to hang together or be hanged separately. The French capitalist class had financed the Russian Czar and had enabled him to crush the revolution of 1905. On the other hand, the Russian Czar had repaid his debt amply to the French bourse by utilizing the hordes at his command against every revolutionary manifestation in Europe.

The French Socialists could not well deny, either, the fact that their participation in the War as part of the French government forced them into a complete surrender to the national bourgeoisie. No longer could they strike against the discipline of the capitalists, either in the factory or at the front. Abandoning its demand for control of the factories, French Socialism “postponed” the revolution until after the war and blew itself to pieces in the trenches as a revolutionary force.

In England, the British Labor Party became part of the coalition war government and so well did it do its job in mobilizing the British workers to fight “for God and for country” that apparently it was not deemed necessary to institute conscription in England until relatively late, when the victorious advance of the German armies compelled the complete mobilization of British forces to stem the tide. The British Socialist officials did not attempt to cover their national chauvinism with the glorious revolutionary phrases of the French. They simply considered themselves Britons, and went to fight and to die.

In Germany, immediately before the declaration of war, the Socialist Party had declared, “Everywhere must sound in the ears of those in power: ‘We will have no war! Down with war! Long live the international brotherhood of the peoples!”’ (*5) The very next day these slogans were abandoned. With this, the whole International collapsed like a house of cards, for the chief party of the International had been the German. By 1914 it had obtained four million five hundred thousand votes and one hundred and ten representatives in the Reichstag. It had nearly a million members. In Austria, too, the Social Democratic Party, which had become unified in 1888, had rapidly advanced. As early as 1907 it had obtained eighty-seven members in the Austrian parliament. To the question, What would the German Socialist Party do in the war crisis? the answer was never for one moment in doubt.

With enthusiasm, the Socialist Party in Germany voted for war credits and for support of the German government, and, as was to be expected, covered up their nationalist betrayal of their own resolutions with the most laborious revolutionary arguments. Germany, they argued, was at the head of the world revolutionary movement because it was the recipient and beneficiary of a wonderful German kultur. The invasion of the elysian garden of Germany by the Russian barbarians would not only destroy this kultur, but would take away from the German functionaries their leading position in world Socialist affairs. This would, of course, completely destroy the world revolutionary movement and set back the workers forever.

So far the argument was like the French, but the Germans could never do anything without profoundly invoking Marx. Thus the Socialists based their identification of German nationalism with world revolution upon the alleged “Marxist” principle that socialism must come first in the most highly developed industrial country. Since Germany was that country, to destroy Germany under the blows of Czarism would mean to destroy the hope that socialism would come anywhere. Since Germany had the mightiest trusts, the greatest technique, the highest capitalism, especially the most powerfully organized and developed proletariat, since the Germans had led in both the theory and practice of Marxism, since, indeed, Marx and Engels themselves were Germans, a destruction of German forces by the victory of Russia would be a decisive catastrophe to the world proletarian movement. The Germans would not admit for one moment that socialism could prevail in any other country but Germany or that it was possible for the workers to take over power in countries less developed; if it could not prevail in Germany it could not prevail at all.

After the War, the German Centrist Socialists had to find some apology for their actions. They repudiated their former arguments and tried to make the world believe that they had been totally unaware of the imminence of war, but were caught completely by surprise. Said Karl Kautsky, for example, “Had the German Social Democracy known that the Austrian Ultimatum had not taken the German Government by surprise … then our Party … would have turned as sharply against the German Government as it did against the Austrian.” (*6)

Had the German Social Democracy known! As though that Socialist organization had not been in a full position to know the tendencies of the German imperialist government As though it could not imagine that the trickeries of Bismarck would be repeated by the Kaiser! This bloated Party, with its thousands of functionaries and hundreds of officials in the government, boasting its great theoretical supremacy over all previous movements, finally had to wind up with the statement that it was caught “surprised.” At best we can declare that fools are just as dangerous as knaves; but enough! Not for one moment do we believe Kautsky’s apologia. The extreme Right Wing never bothered to apologize, it merely continued the cry: "Deutschland ueber alles!"

The sectarian Left Wing of the Second International was no better. In England, Hyndman shouted that the present war was not capitalistic and that Marx was proven wrong in his theory of historical materialism, since people fought for noble ideals as well as for material advantage. (*7) The ideals for which Hyndman wanted others to die were those of democracy and of saving poor bleeding Belgium. Hyndman turned into the most virulent nationalist in the course of the war.(*8) In France, Guesde became an ardent chauvinist.

In the United States, the Socialist Labor Party in its propaganda and national platforms refused to say one official word about the War. To end the War, no doubt, was “an immediate demand” and the S. L. P. had nothing to do with immediate demands. Let the storm rage as it would, the S. L. P. would reiterate its faith in peaceful education and its demand for the unconditional surrender of capitalism. Like the I. W. W., which also “evaded” the War, insisting that its job was solely to organize on the job, the S. L. P. serenely barged along with the song: wars may come and wars may go but programs flow on forever.

It must not be imagined that the workers’ debacle was confined merely to the Socialists. The Syndicalists, too, hastened to raise their voices for the War. They abandoned their position of anti-militarism and anti-patriotism. The French Syndicalists as a whole, as the British and German trade unionists, rallied en masse for the defense of la patric. Sorel and others became rabid defenders of France.

It was left to the Left Wing Centrist and pacifist movements in the neutral countries and elsewhere to carry on the agitation against the War. In many cases this agitation was simply a reflection of the desire of the capitalist class of those countries to keep out of the War. This was particularly true of the Socialist Parties in the neutral countries like Scandinavia, Italy, and the United States. In Scandinavia, the capitalists were benefitting mightily from the war. Some of the drops from the blood feasts were being transmitted to layers of the workers who also became enthusiastic for the neutral policy of their governments.

In Italy, the capitalist class was bargaining with both sets of belligerents to learn which would give them greater imperialist concessions. These vacillations of the capitalists were reflected in the ranks of the Italian Socialist Party and permitted it to take an official position against the War. Thus, by the time Italy entered the War, the officials of the Socialist Party were too heavily compromised to change their position. During the course of the War, the tremendous loss of life, among the Italian workmen, owing especially to the incompetency of the militarists, moved the Socialists still farther to the Left, so that instead of the situation’s being created where the Centrists were dominated by the Right Wing, as existed in Germany, in Italy the Right Wing was dominated by the Centrists who used revolutionary phrases and believed themselves internationalists.

In the United States, the Socialist Party had still longer time to take a position against the War, due to America’s extremely belated entrance. The Socialist Party too, therefore, took not the Right Wing, but the typically Centrist position, and advocated the following measures to insure peace, namely, that all laws for the increase of military and naval forces be repealed; that the President be given no power to lead the country into such a situation that war would be inevitable; that no war declaration or action should be attempted until the matter was submitted to a popular referendum; that the United States abandon the Monroe Doctrine as a vicious imperialist policy; that the Philippines be freed; and that the government use its offices to mediate to end the War.

In its national platform of 1916, the Socialist Party declared that war was due to capitalism. “The class struggle, like capitalism, is international. The proletariat of the world has but one enemy, the capitalist class, whether at home or abroad.” The Socialist Party stood against military preparedness and against war preparations. “The Socialist Party stands committed to the class war, and urges upon the workers in the mines and forests, on the railways and ships, in factories and fields, the use of their economic and industrial power, by refusing to mine the coal, to transport soldiers, to furnish food or other supplies for military purposes… .” (*9)

Thus, strange as it may seem, the legalistic Socialists, who had constantly fought the I. W. W. and had denounced all theories of the general strike, were now apparently urging strikes and other actions to insure peace, while, at the same time, the I. W. W. was refusing to enter into strikes merely on questions of war. In both cases, the organizations could not separate themselves from the policies of capitalism.

While calling for strike action, of course, the Socialist Party itself did not begin the task of leading strikes to stop the War. On the contrary, under Hillquit, it was ardently supporting the A. F. of L. officials who at the proper moment would give their blessing to all military production. The key to the Socialist position was the fact that the U. S. government had not yet determined to enter the War and thus the Socialist Party did not have to make up its mind to end its formal and nominal resistance to war. Then, too, it should be recalled that there was an extremely large German population in the United States which flocked to support the Socialist Party as a means of expressing their own German nationalism. The Germans of Milwaukee stood solidly behind the Socialist representative in Congress, Victor Berger.

In 1915, the National Committee of the Socialist Party reported its peace program which included the items: no annexations and indemnities, political independence for all foreign nations desiring it, international parliament and open diplomacy, universal disarmament, and political and industrial democracy. Later on, President Wilson was to steal this platform and make it the basis for his famous Fourteen Points. Thus, the Socialist Party had worked itself into the position where a considerable Left Wing had been organized to carry on struggle against the War should America enter.

The test came in 1917 when it was clear that Wilson would fling the country into the maelstrom. The Socialist Party by this time had approximately one hundred and ten thousand members and was a considerable force. A special convention of the Socialist Party was called at St. Louis. Several resolutions were presented, one by the Right Wing that called for endorsement of the war and supported the government, one by the extreme Left that called for active militant war against war. A compromise resolution was finally adopted, under the patronage of the Centrists headed by Hillquit, which advocated:

"(1) Continued active and public opposition to all capitalist wars through demonstrations, mass petitions, and all other honorable and effective means within our power.

“(2) Unyielding opposition to all proposed legislation for all military or industrial conscription.”

"(3) Vigorous resistance to all reactionary measures……"(*10)

As with the platonic resolutions of the Second International against war, the question remained, what would the Socialist Party do to carry out this resolution? The fact that its execution was confided to Hillquit and his associates left the issue in no doubt. Hillquit, as a legal partner to the officials of the A. F. of L., was personally strongly in favor of the government’s position. “My opposition to war is purely a Socialist attitude, and as it happens my personal sympathies and inclinations are largely on the side of the Allies.” (*11)

Thus Hillquit’s opposition to war was openly declared to be divorced from the vitality of his own personal life; war opposition was indeed disagreeable to him. He was extremely apologetic at the vigorous language of the resolution which had been forced upon him. “Had it been written in normal circumstances, it would undoubtedly have been couched in more moderate and less irritating language… .” (*12) Such views operated to excuse the government even when it vigorously attacked the Socialist Party. The blame, evidently, lay on the socialists themselves for using such “irritating” language.

The anti-war resolution had expressly limited its opposition to “honorable and effective means.” The Left Wing identified their honor with the effectiveness of the means; to the Centrists such as Hillquit, “honorable” means meant methods patently ineffective.

The carrying out of the St. Louis resolution, therefore, could hardly please anyone. The Right Wing nationalists, represented by such men as Charles Edward Russell and John Spargo, broke away from the Socialist Party to become propaganda agents for Wilson. The Left Wing, headed by Charles E. Ruthenberg and others, incurred the deadly animosity of the Hillquits by their vigorous attempts to struggle against the war machinery of the United States government. Following the Left Wing were such warm-hearted agitators as Eugene V. Debs, who, unable to change a lifetime of thought and action overnight, continued their opposition to the War, and soon found themselves in prison. Debs’ sentimentality prevented him from throwing off the saccharine blandishments of Hillquit, who used Debs’ prestige to maintain his own hold on the party. At the same time open war was declared against the Left Wing, a war that was to culminate two years later in a split of the Party and the organization of a separate Communist movement.

During all this time, the government did not hesitate to crack down in a most vigorous fashion on the German and foreign-born elements in the Socialist Party of whatever political coloration, whether Right or Left Wing. The Socialist Party, thus, in spite of its ingrown opportunism and centrist leadership, could emerge from the War with a good deal of persecution to its credit.


The warlike declarations of the various parties of the Second International were by no means sudden effluvia, but could have been foretold from the debates on two important questions connected with war which the Socialists had discussed for many years previous, namely, the question of the relationship of war to revolution and the attitude of the Socialists to military affairs, and secondly, the role of nationalism in the international revolution. On both these questions, Marx and Engels had had much to say. Unfortunately, in some respects their views were stated so ambiguously as to become distorted completely by the Socialist opportunists.

Marx and Engels, of course, believed that the worker had no country to defend, that he had no fatherland. The worker owed nothing to the national flag or to the capitalist system of society except the duty of breaking his chains and liberating humanity from these institutions.

Nevertheless, Marx and Engels were realists. They did not live in a world of abstractions far removed from the concrete situation. In every war they took distinct sides. Since their general strategy was one of bringing about the democratic bourgeois revolution and overthrowing the remnants of feudalism, thus clearing the way for the future battle between capital and labor, the revolutionary Marxists could take the part of the bourgeois democratic countries as against the countries of the old regime. They centered their hatred against Russia, to them the arch supporter of everything reactionary. It was Czarism that supported the Holy Alliance of reaction and buttressed Prussian and Austrian despotism. By denouncing Czarism as a supporter of Junkerthum, Marx and Engels obviated any conclusion that they had turned German nationalist and that they were advocating the overthrow of Czarism in order to allow German imperialism to grow. The overthrow of the Russian system was for them part of the struggle against the Prussian system, both enemies of the German people.

Following this line, Marx and Engels could not be neutral during the important Crimean War of 1854-1856. Indeed, they did a great deal to mobilize the English workers in the demand that Great Britain should declare war against Russia. Marx wrote a special book on the secret machinations of Lord Palmerston which portrayed the honorable Lord as an agent of Russian diplomacy in England. Not that Marx wanted to tie the English workers to the imperialism of their bosses; in every case Marx was careful to point out that, in the period under discussion, the workers could make an alliance with the democratic bourgeoisie in concrete instances only because they themselves were not able to take over power, but had the task of fighting the “enemies of their enemies.” As soon as their bourgeois ally got into power, the workers’ duty was to become an opposition and to clear the decks for their own battle for communism.

In the Crimean War, the strategy of Marx and Engels was to defeat Russian reaction and to stimulate revolution in the Balkans, so as to create a Balkan democratic federation. As the Ottoman Empire would be broken up, the revolution was bound to occur in Turkey and the Sultan would be deposed. Czarism would be dealt a severe blow from which it would not recover. The Austrian monarchy would be squeezed between the democratic forces growing all around it, and a revolution would have to break out, democratizing the rule. The defeat of Russian Czarism would terminate the despotism of Prussian absolutism and all this, in turn, would stimulate a revolution within Russia. Such was the grand strategy of Marx regarding the Crimean War!

The strategy of the English imperialists, however, who finally entered into the war, was an entirely different one. They were not interested in a Balkan federation which might lead to a democratic revolution in Eastern Europe and the independence of Poland and other States. On the contrary, they were in deadly opposition to such a movement. They fought solely to maintain the status quo in Turkey and to keep the tottering Sultan on his throne. This, in the long run, proved an impossible task and in spite of the British imperialists, the war of Britain against Russia resulted in many of the democratic actions which Marx and Engels had predicted.

In the American Civil War, Marx took sides at once wholeheartedly in favor of the North and mobilized the British workers in vigorous opposition to the aristocratic tendency to favor the South and to declare war on the United States. A cordial correspondence was inaugurated between Marx and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, by no means did Marx take a neutral stand, but first favored defeating the adventure of Louis Napoleon, and later worked for the defeat of Prussian imperialism and warmly hailed the Paris Commune.

In spite of this genuine revolutionary real politik, Marx at times left himself open to the charge that Bakunin and Kropotkin were so fond of making, that he was at bottom a German nationalist. As examples of Germanophilism there has been cited Marx’s attitude towards the Slavs of Czecho-Slovakia and of Croatia. To this might be added Engel’s views regarding Polish independence.

In regard to Czecho-Slovakia, Marx was clearly of the opinion that this was a Slavic enclave having intrinsically no future or historical progressiveness. Whatever was progressive with the Czechs and Slovaks had come from Germany. The people had become more or less Germanified. There was no reason for their insistence on national independence. To a lesser degree, Marx believed the same about Croatia.

Not that Marx advocated the compulsory subjugation of one people by another, nor that he was opposed to self-determination of peoples. On the contrary, such a policy he would have denounced as counter-revolutionary through and through. It was simply that he believed the Socialists in those countries did not have to raise as their demand the struggle for national independence. What was most important, and here Marx proved to be thoroughly correct, the struggle for national independence on the part of the Croatians and the Bohemians had bound the people of these provinces to the Russian Czar so that they were used by absolutism as weapons to crush the democratic revolution. In the 1848 revolutions, the Czechs and Croatians were utilized by the Austrian Emperor as the scourge to chastise the Viennese democrats and the Hungarian rebels.

In regard to Poland, both Marx and Engels were warmly in favor of Polish independence, since this would mean a breaking up of the Russian empire and the strengthening of the democratic forces in Eastern Europe. However, it cannot be said that Engels looked forward with a great deal of optimism to the perpetuation of Polish culture. While the Poles were conceded to have a progressive role in contradistinction to the Czechs and Croatians, nevertheless they, too, were torn between the Russians on the one hand and the Germans on the other and would not be able to survive as an independent race and nation for any length of time. Only in a system of Socialist republics would the Poles be free to enjoy their independent culture and language, but once obtained, its value would be problematical.

In the same realistic manner did Engels look upon the national question in relation to the inevitable World War. Engels was a finished expert in military affairs and had contributed many brilliant articles on military evolution, strategy, and tactics for papers in various countries. (*13) Analyzing the evolution of militarism, Engels traced the development of the army from the special mercenary force to universal military service of a whole people, and posed the question, what should be the attitude of the Socialists to conscription?

While the Socialists were opposed to a standing army maintained over and above the people, by no means was the Marxist indiscriminately opposed to military training. Marx and Engels were not among those who conceived that the victory of socialism would in the main come peacefully. on the contrary, they were certain that the Paris Commune was a forerunner of the type of struggles that would take place between the bourgeoisie and the workers. If the class struggle was destined to terminate in civil war, it was absolutely necessary that the worker learn how to fight, that he become an expert in military affairs.

In accord with this basic policy, and not because of pacifist leanings, Engels began to stress the point that a people unarmed was not able to defeat the standing army of the capitalist States. He pointed out that the old methods of street-barricade fighting were no longer possible in the modern era where the narrow streets had been changed to wide boulevards, and the national army had become expert in dealing with popular insurrection; he declared that two alternatives faced the revolutionists: either to see that the people themselves were trained in the use of arms and had arms, or to be able to crack a national army that was placed against them, to split it, and to win over portions of the army to the side of the people.

The easiest way to accomplish both tasks was to ensure that the people themselves were part of the army. Universal military training gave all the workers a knowledge of arms. Conscription placed the workers inside the army with arms in their hands. Should the masses revolt under such circumstances, there would be no question but that the workers who composed the overwhelming mass of the soldiers would refuse to fire upon their brothers, but would rather turn their guns against the capitalists. Thus, the two conditions put forth by the Marxists would be fulfilled: on the one hand, the working class would be trained in the use of arms and would be actually armed; on the other hand, the reserve strength of the capitalist, namely, the national army, would be broken into pieces.

According to Marxism, capitalists inevitably would have to dig their own grave and prepare for their own destruction, since, after the Napoleonic Wars, nothing could prevent the growth of the army from embracing the people. Conscription and universal military training had to be the standing rule in every country in Europe. Just as the capitalists could not prevent the growth of the standing army to include the nation, so were they unable to prevent the World War, verifying the basic thesis of Marx that capitalism meant the increase of all contradictions to the breaking point, the driving down of the masses to the most abject misery, to the point of death, where they would he forced to rebel.

To the Marxist, the bursting forth of the World War, concomitant with the arming of the people, was bound to lead to conditions fruitful for the proletarian revolution. “And, finally, no war is any longer possible for Prussia-Germany except a world war and a world war indeed of an extension and violence hitherto undreamt of. Eight to ten millions of soldiers will mutually massacre one another and in so doing so devour the whole of Europe until they have stripped it barer than any swarm of locusts has ever done. The devastations of the Thirty Years’ War compressed into three or four years, and spread over the whole Continent; famine, pestilence, general demoralization both of the armies and of the mass of the people produced by acute distress; hopeless confusion of our artificial machinery in trade, industry and credit, ending in general bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their traditional state wisdom to such an extent that crowns will roll by dozens on the pavement and there will be nobody to pick them up; absolute impossibility of foreseeing how it will all end and who will come out of the struggle as victor; only one result absolutely certain: general exhaustion and the establishment of the conditions for the ultimate victory of the working class. This is the prospect when the system of mutual outbidding in armaments, driven to extremities, at last bears its inevitable fruits. This, my lords, princes, and statesmen, is where in your wisdom you have brought old Europe. And when nothing more remains to you but to open the last great war dance—that will suit us all right. The war may perhaps push us temporarily into the background, may wrench from us many a position already conquered. But when you have unfettered forces which you will then no longer be able again to control, things may go as they will: at the end of the tragedy you will be ruined and the victory of the proletariat will either be already achieved or at any rate inevitable.” (*14)

However, although revolution was the inevitable ultimate outcome of such a war, this revolution could take place only if the Socialists would carry on a revolutionary policy against their own capitalist class. Engels believed that the workers would inevitably be compelled so to do, although this did not necessarily mean that the world revolution would be successful at its very first attempt.

Against the capitalist standing army Engels proposed the demands of a people’s militia and the general arming of the people. The Socialists at the same time were to carry on a most vigorous attack against militarism in parliament and out. As part of the Socialists’ revolutionary policy it was absolutely vital that they hurl themselves full force against the war programs of imperialism. War could bring victorious revolution only if the workers fought the war. The Marxist had nothing in common with those who preached “the worse, the better,” that misery alone would bring the revolution nearer. Revolution was the product of two sets of circumstances: on the one hand, the unbearable misery of the people, generated by the workings of capitalism itself; on the other hand, the sturdy resistance to miserable conditions on the part of the workers. The latter circumstances inevitably flowed from the former, but both were necessary before revolutions and Socialism could be realized.

The opportunist Socialists, especially the Germans, were quick to seize upon Engels’ theories and to distort them for their own purposes. Jean Jaur’es declared when arguing for universal military service: “Everywhere it is the workmen and socialists who demand military service for all.” (*15) The same point was made by Bebel in Germany, with the argument that compulsory military service was entirely compatible with democracy. People who had been trained in arms could not long be refused the right to vote. Had not democracy in Germany followed conscription? Only despots relied on mercenary forces.

Thus was compulsory military service idealized as the agent and symbol of democracy. It was declared that compulsory military service in Prussia “was associated (as it had been in the France of 1793) with an enormous step forward in the organization of general education. As in France, it enabled the people finally to drive out the foreign oppressor. As in France, it abolished at once nine-tenths of the degrading punishments…. It was intimately associated, again, with the abolition of serfdom. Even in the strictest military sense, it worked enormously for the education of the officers …." (*16)

The zeal of the Socialist leaders for compulsory military training was no struggle against the State, but rather a capitulation before the militarists. In one form or another, Socialists talked about the duty of the worker to defend his fatherland. Jaur’es, for example, brushed aside the cry that the workman has no country with the argument that the proletariat is more truly in the fatherland than any other class. “Never would a proletariat which had abandoned the defense of national independence—and, therefore, of its own free development,—never would such a proletariat find vigour enough to conquer capitalism. Having unresistingly suffered the invader’s yoke to be added to that of the capitalist, it would never raise its head again.” (*17)

Similar expressions were uttered by Bebel to the effect that if the fatherland were attacked he would shoulder his gun. This statement of a leader in the Second International enabled Daniel DeLeon in the United States also to indulge in patriotic splurges and declare that: If the Socialist’s Red Flag of universal freedom is not incompatible with incidental loyalty to the flag of even a German Empire, then how much more was the American flag entitled to the love of the people of the United States, regardless of the misuse that the ruling class was putting the flag to! (*18)

DeLeon went even further in his American patriotism. While all the European flags rose out of the fumes of human sighs, were planted upon the prostrate bodies of subjects and were meant defiantly to proclaim the double wretchedness as a social principle, it was otherwise, it was the exact opposite, with the ‘Stars and Stripes.’

“Apart from the circumstances that the American flag was first raised by men who, however, and pardonably mistaken in their sociology and economics, did sincerely believe that the American Flag raised over the boundless natural opportunities which the land offered to industry, would insure the citizen the power and responsibility of being the architect of his own fortune, apart from the circumstances that the American Flag was the first to wave over a constitution that ‘legalizes revolution’;-apart from these and many other kindred circumstances, the historic fact that the scientist, the noble-minded, the venerable Franklin, when the scheme of the flag was presented to him, a blue field with a star for each State, expressed the hope that the day would dawn when every Nation in the world would be represented in the blue field with her own star,—that fact confers upon the American Flag the lofty distinction of being the first on earth to urge the Brotherhood of Nations; the first to herald the Solidarity of peoples; the first drapery—the symbol of Peace on Earth;—that fact renders the American Flag the anticipation of the Red Flag of International Brotherhood and endears it to the heart of civilized man.” (*19)

The charge of German nationalism was also made regarding Engels’ analysis of the real politics to be played during the coming World War. Engels was strongly of the opinion that the defeat of Germany would be a disaster from the international working class point of view. “So much seems certain to me: if we are beaten, every barrier to chauvinism and a war of revenge in Europe will be thrown down for years hence. If we are victorious our Party will come into power. The victory of Germany is therefore the victory of the revolution, and if it comes to war we must not only desire victory but further it by every means….

“What should have been categorically stated was that if France formally represents the revolution in relation to Germany, Germany through its workers’ Party, stands materially at the head of the revolution, and this is bound to come to light in the war—in which we, and with us the revolution, will either be crushed or else come to power.” (*20)

Engels further wrote: “Bebel and I have been in correspondence on this point and we are of the opinion that if the Russians start war against us, German Socialists must go for the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be, a l’outrance [in a fight to the death]. If Germany is crushed, then we shall be too, while in the most favourable case the struggle will be such a violent one that Germany will only be able to maintain herself by revolutionary means, so that very possibly we shall be forced to come into power and play the part of 1793." (*21)

On the surface, this was an exceedingly nationalist statement and yet, behind it was a profound revolutionary viewpoint. Engels was certain that the Socialist Party was growing so rapidly that within ten years it would surely come to power; once in power, the German Socialists would open the way for the reconstitution of Poland and would allow the people both of northern Schleswig and Alsace Lorraine freedom to vote as to which country they wanted to embrace. Thus, at once the Socialists would show the greatest friendliness to the French and would demonstrate that the victory of Socialism would by no means spell war against the French. The victory of the German Socialists, of course, would be such a breach in the wall of world capitalism as to lead to its entire collapse. It was for that reason that Engels hoped that peace would remain unbroken.

Nonetheless, it was exactly for that very reason that peace could not remain intact. The World War began in 1914 precisely because capitalism was entering into a new economic crisis on the one hand, and, on the other, the Socialist Parties were growing to enormous size, increasing in militancy and threatening to take over State power. The World War was one of the ways in which the capitalists felt they could control the labor situation. Militant labor could be sent to the front and disposed of in the trenches. The very forces that prevented the realization of any gradual taking over of the government by the Socialists and the peaceful inauguration of Socialism prevented an unbroken peace. World war and civil war have common roots.

Engels never imagined that the German workers would not carry on a revolutionary policy against their government, even during the war. He wrote: “Then we have to see to it that the war is conducted by every revolutionary method and that things are made impossible for any government which refuses to adopt such methods; also at a given moment to take the lead ourselves. We have not yet forgotten the glorious example of the French in 1793 and, if we are driven to it, it may come about that we celebrate the centenary of 1793 by showing that the German workers of 1893 are not unworthy of the Sansculottes… .” (*22) Thus Engels believed that the German Socialists, while resisting a war of invasion by Russian Czarism, would at the same time make it impossible for the German capitalists to control the war, but that, in the course of the war, the Socialists would take over the power and carry out the war in a revolutionary manner.

Unfortunately, nothing of the sort occurred. The German opportunists were ready to popularize the views of Engels that Germany must defend itself against Russia, but they completely distorted his views as to the need of revolutionary struggle against the capitalists of Germany conducting that war. It must be said that Engels’ formulations lent themselves at times to malicious interpretation, although we cannot blame him for not too closely anticipating in 1891 what would occur in 1914.


When the War broke out, a relatively small number of Socialist organizations took a stand against it. These included all the Russian groups, Menshevik, Bolshevik, and Socialist revolutionary, most of the Balkan groups (the most heroic of which was the Serbian, which, in spite of the dreadful invasion of Serbia, came out against the defense of its Fatherland), some of the groups in the Britannic States, in Great Britain—the Independent Labor Party, the British Socialist Party, and Socialist Labor Party, and the Socialist parties of the United States and Italy. Not all of these groups opposing the war were revolutionary. Some of them were simply Left pacifist, as, for example, the Independent Labor Party represented by Ramsay MacDonald.

The first problem was to try to organize these small groups into a national conference against the war. Efforts were initiated by the Italians and by the Swiss. Another attempt was made by the American Socialist Party, who invited groups to come to Washington. A third trial was made by neutrals at Copenhagen and a fourth was launched by the International Socialist Bureau itself at the Hague. All of these attempts failed dismally.

The first successful conference was the Women’s Socialist Conference summoned by Clara Zetkin, Secretary of the Women’s International Council of Socialist and Labor Organizations, which was part of the Second international. This women’s conference met at Berne in March, 1915, and, under the leadership of the revolutionary Clara Zetkin, issued a statement against the War and prepared the way for a larger conference that was called in Zimmerwald, September, 1915, on the initiative of the Italian Socialist Party.

This larger anti-war Conference was attended by Socialist groups from Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Poland, the Baltic Provinces, and the Balkan States, while unofficially present were representatives of the Left Wings from France, Germany, Scandinavia, Holland, and Switzerland. The Conference formed a permanent body called the International Socialist Commission, and issued a joint manifesto of international working class solidarity against imperialism. Simultaneously, the French and German delegations pledged mutual support to each other.

The Zimmerwald Conference was a composite of Centrists and pacifists, besides containing an extreme Left Wing headed by Lenin. The Conference as a whole was not intended to replace the Bureau of the Second International, but merely to stimulate it. The majority did not conceive that the Second International was dead. The Lenin group, alone of the delegations, stood for the formation of a new International and a break from the old. The principal slogan of the Conference was “immediate peace.” Against this, the Left Wing, under Lenin, proposed the slogan: “The transformation of imperialist war into civil war and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Although defeated, the Lenin group did not break from the Conference but worked as a militant minority.

By 1916 the revolutionary Socialists were in a mood to advance still farther to the Left. The deadly toll of the War was quietly doing its work. At Kienthal, the Conference took the step not only of denouncing the Pacifist movements, but of castigating also the Bureau of the Socialist International for having failed to bring together the Socialist workers of different countries to stop the War. The only solution to end the War was the conquest of power by the Socialists. Thus, gradually the views of the extreme Left of Lenin were becoming adopted, and the Kienthal Conference was to bind together a number of groups that were to form later the kernel of the Third (Communist) International.

No further conferences were held during the War. After the Russian Revolution, a vigorous effort was made to hold a conference in Stockholm in 1917 on the initiation of the Socialist International Bureau, but it came to nothing. The Bolsheviks were highly suspicious that the German Socialists at the head of the Bureau were simply playing the game of German imperialism that wanted to stop the War when it was losing and when it saw that Russia was in revolution. On the other hand, the governments of the victorious powers refused to grant passports to their respective socialists. And so the conference failed to materialize.

The World War marked a complete collapse of the Socialist International. From a revolutionary force it had turned into an instrument for the mobilization of its nationals to shoot each other down in favor of its supposed enemy, the capitalists in the rear. The War exposed the Second International as a destructive agent of the working class. The Russian Revolution was to demonstrate still more clearly that the only role left for the Socialists to play was the business of counter-revolution.


1. Estimate of R. P. Dutt: The Two Internationals, p. 14. (London, 1920 edition.)

2. Compare, L. Wolman: Growth of American Trade Unions, 1880-1923, p. 65.

3. See, H. W. Laidler: The British Co-operative Movement, pamphlet.

4. See, H. W. Laidler: The European War and Socialism, pamphlet; see also A. W. Humphrey: International Socialism, and the War, pp. 82-83.

5. See, H. W. Laidler: The European War and Socialism.

6. K. Kautsky: The Guilt of William Hohenzollern, p. 258.

7. H. M. Hyndman: The Future of Democracy, p. 54 and before.

8. See, for example, H. M. Hyndman: Clemenceau.

9. See the Socialist Party National Platform, given in K. H. Porter: National Party Platforms, pp. 403-411.

10. See, M. Hillquit: Loose Leaves from a Busy Life, p. 166. Compare also H. W. Laidler: Socialism in Thought and Action, pp. 457-458.

11. M. Hillquit: The same, p. 205.

12. M. Hillquit: The same, p. 167.

13. His military analysis of the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War in particular evoked the highest praise in circles devoted to the pursuit of military science.

14. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Preface by F. Engels to Borkheim’s "In Memory of the Supreme German Patriots 1806-1807,” pp. 456-457.

15. Quoted by G. S. Coulton; The Case for Compulsory Military Service, p. 149.

16. The same, p. 90.

17. The same, p. 198, quoting from statement in J. Jaur’es’: L’Armie Nouvelle, p. 362.

18. See, D. DeLeon: “’The Flag’ in Utah,” The Weekly People, November 13, 1912.

19. The same.

20. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Engels to Bebel, 1891, p. 490.

21. The same, Letter of Engels to Sorge, 1891, p. 494.

22. The same, Letter of Engels to Bebel, 1891, pp. 491-492.