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Socialist Appeal, 4 April 1939

V.I. Lenin

“Turn Imperialist War Into Civil War”

(August 1915)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 21, 4 April 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In 1915 Lenin and Zinoviev collaborated in writing a pamphlet, Socialism and War, from which the excerpt below is taken. The great majority of the leaders of the international socialist movement had turned traitor to the workers and become rabid patriots, but Lenin and Zinoviev in exile, with a small group of other loyal socialists, continued to oppose the war. Two years later, in 1917, Lenin returned to Russia and led the magnificent revolution of Russia’s toiling people against their oppressors. Lenin died in 1924. Although Zinoviev worked as one of Lenin’s closest collaborators in the leadership of the revolution, he was shot by Joseph Stalin in 1936 as a “fascist mad dog.” Just as the Social Democratic organization in 1914–18 stood for support of the capitalist democracies against “Kaiserism” so its spiritual off-spring today, Stalinism, stands for patriotic support of capitalism under the slogan “Fight to Save Democracy from Fascism.” Leninism stands for uncompromising struggle against capitalist war.

* * *

Social-chauvinism is adherence to the idea of “defending the fatherland” in the present war. From this idea follows repudiation of the class struggle in war time, voting for military appropriations, etc. In practice, the social chauvinists conduct an anti-proletarian bourgeois policy, because in practice they insist not on the “defense of the fatherland” in the sense of fighting against the oppression of a foreign nation, but upon the “right” of one or the other of the “great” nations to rob the colonies and oppress other peoples. The social-chauvinists follow the bourgeoisie in deceiving the people by saying that the war is conducted for the defense of the freedom and the existence of the nations; thus they put themselves on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.

Betrayal of Past

To the social-democrats belong those who justify and idealize the government and the bourgeoisie of one of the belligerent groups of nations, as well as those who, like Kautsky, recognize the equal right of the Socialists of all belligerent nations to “defend the fatherland.” Social-chauvinism, being in practice a defense of the privileges, prerogatives, robberies and violence of “one’s own” (or any other) imperialist bourgeoisie, is a total betrayal of all Socialist conviction and a violation of the decisions of the International Socialist Congress in Basle (1912, Ed.) ...

The war has undoubtedly created the acutest crises and has incredibly intensified the sufferings of the masses. The reactionary character of this war, the shameless lie of the bourgeoisie of all countries which covers its predatory aims with “national” ideology, all this inevitably creates, on the basis of an objective revolutionary situation, revolutionary sentiments in the masses. Our duty is to help make these sentiments conscious, to deepen them and give them form. The only correct expression of this task is the slogan “Turn the imperialist war into civil war.” All consistent class struggle in time of war, all “mass action” earnestly conducted must inevitably lead to this. We cannot know whether in the first or in the second imperialist war between the great nations, whether during or after it, a strong revolutionary movement will flare up. Whatever the case may be, it is our absolute duty systematically and unflinchingly to work in that particular direction ...

Duty of Revolutionists

A mass sentiment for peace often expresses the beginning of a protest, an indignation and a consciousness of the reactionary nature of the war. It is the duty of all Social-Democrats to take advantage of this sentiment. They will take the most ardent part in every movement and in every demonstration made on this basis, but they will not deceive the people by assuming that in the absence of a revolutionary movement it is possible to have peace without annexations, without oppression of nations, without robbery, without planting the seed of new wars among the present governments and the ruling classes. Such deception would only play into the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries and their counter-revolutionary plans, Whoever wishes a durable and democratic peace must be for civil war against the governments and the-bourgeoisie.

Socialism and War, August 1915

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