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World War I

H. Allen & R. Stone

World War I in Retrospect

An Historical Examination

(June 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 5, June 1942, pp. 144–149.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

These articles endeavor to review the acts and conduct of the leading forces, individuals and organizations of the labor and revolutionary movement in Europe, particularly France. It is to be hoped that a knowledge of the period of the First World War, sunk deep into the minds of the working class movement, together with the kaleidoscopic and catastrophic events of the past two and a half years, will help prevent gross repetitions by the American workers in the present war; will give an impetus to further growth and development of a powerful, militant labor movement, with a corresponding revolutionary wing; and, lastly, will develop, out of the war itself, a mass movement to abolish war and bring lasting peace by the socialist transformation of society.

The period covered is roughly from the beginning of the war, August 2, 1914, to the Zimmerwald Conference, September 1915. The period covered has (1) a dramatic beginning, showing the great strength of the workers’ movement; (2) a lull with the complete capitulation of the leaders when national unity was the only slogan; and (3) a time of rising hope when the Zimmerwald Conference brings together a very few internationalists who are opposed to the war.

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, on August 2, 1914, the greater European powers – Germany, France, England, Austria-Hungary, Italy and others – had witnessed the development of powerful movements of the working class, in their trade unions and their political organizations. Great confidence and hope was placed in the European labor movement. The belief grew that any attempts by the European ruling classes – the Germany of the Kaiser and the Junkers; the Russia of the Czar and landlords; the France of Poincaré and the Third Estate; the England of the King and the “City” et al. – to resolve their imperialist rivalries by war, would be defeated by the mass power of the working classes in all the countries of Europe, even as an earlier outbreak of the World War had been prevented by the mass threats of the working class, and the consequent danger, to the ruling classes, of social revolution itself.

Yet immediately following upon truly dramatic and dynamic signs of working class power or strength, we find a swift backward unfoldment of the workers’ movement, once war has been declared. First, resentment; then despair; a lulling of the class feelings and protests; and then the final complete surrender or capitulation of the official leadership of the European labor and political movements to social-patriotism, supine submission to the war-mad bourgeoisie in each country. National Unity (“Union Sacrée” in France), rather than class struggle, became the guiding star of a once great movement of the masses. Europe was drenched in blood for more than four years until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, finally brought an end to the horror.

The brightest and greatest beacon light of the working class that emerged from this holocaust was of course the historic Bolshevik Russian Revolution, beginning November 7, 1917, and it was its emergence which really terminated the slaughter which bourgeois commentators expected to last five years more. During all these years only a tiny force of revolutionary internationalists expressed and rendered revolutionary opposition to the war. Only a handful of them were able in the early days of the war to convene at the now historic Zimmerwald conference from September 5 to 8, 1915, to draw up a balance of the war and pass resolutions calling upon the working people once again to pursue a class struggle policy against the war.

What men did and why, in great moments and periods of history, is important. Not as information or knowledge alone, but in the lessons that are thereby offered to us for today, a time of even greater significance and decisiveness for the future of labor and the peoples of all the world. The First World War is now history. The Second World War is making history, but not yet history that can be recorded as finished. The working class and exploited peoples of all countries, of all the continents, of all colors, have it within their power to set the sign and seal on this history in its making, and to decide the course of history in their favor. The story of the First World War, in respect to the labor and revolutionary movement, can be a definite aid in the positive determining of labor’s course and destiny in the future.

Wars for “Democracy”

The First World War, history has firmly established, had its basis and deep roots in the economic-political rivalries of the contending military powers or nations. It was never, in its origins, prosecution or consequences, a “war for democracy.” Marxists had long demonstrated the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production and distribution in national and social relations. Hence they accurately predicted an explosion of the capitalist productive forces in the form of imperialist war. Imperialist war is an expression of the necessity of the rival imperialist nations or rival groups of imperialist nations to break through the economic and political boundaries of national states. The constant and self-perpetuating economic and social convulsions culminating in imperialist war are direct proof of the necessity for the workers to struggle against the limitations of the system of private property and the social order of capitalism itself. In their own interests the working class should be the first to learn this lesson. Its interests lie in combating the outbreak of war; and failing to prevent war, not to support the imperialist war while it lasts, but to strive to convert such a war toward its own ends, namely, the social revolution.

The First World War, by its very nature, failed to resolve the imperialist contradictions that were the basic causes for its outbreak in 1914. The Second World War, begun 25 years later, is now in its third year attempting with the same futile methods to resolve the same fundamental contradictions, under far more severe and aggravated economic, political and military conditions. The imperialist nations, whichever group may win a military victory, will fail again. The insoluble remains insoluble – on the basis of capitalist relations of society.

In the First World War the leadership of the working class, and thus also the working class, failed to achieve its historic destiny. In the Second World War the task of the revolutionists and the working class is again the same. Will the masses succeed this time, where they failed before? More certainly than at any time in history the fate of humanity depends on the answer to this question.

The history of the official labor and revolutionary movement, immediately preceding and during the First World War, represents a crushing indictment of the syndicalist (trade union) and socialist leaders in their respective countries. Their traitorous acts, their betrayals of the working class, their complete support of the First World Imperialist War – these things are known in large part by the European masses, and the revolutionaries in all countries. But a knowledge of their acts, and their reasons therefor, can be of value today to the American labor and revolutionary movement in laying out the course of labor here.

One may begin with the French labor movement as an outstanding illustration of the curse of opportunism that struck off the arm of revolutionary opposition and resistance to the war from the body of the French working class. It provides a potent illustration that militancy and desire for class action by the masses are easily frustrated or nullified unless the labor and political arms of the working class are guided always by a well-defined, clear-cut set of principles (theory) as their guide to action. The lack of such a consistent theory and principles in both the trade union movement and the French Socialist Party made inevitable a general policy of opportunism and then capitulation to social-patriotism on their part.

Between the syndicalists (General Confederation o£ Labor – known as the CGT), led by Leon Jouhaux, and the Socialist Party of France, led by Jean Jaurès, there had existed through the year a sharp division and a most intense antagonism.

French CGT – Hybrid of Unionism and Politics

The syndicalists had no doctrine or theory of the labor movement; that is, they professed none, endeavoring thus not to be “doctrinaire.” This lack itself boded ill to the organized French workers. The syndicalists wanted to be as broad as possible in order to avoid even any suspicion of sectarianism. This, in a trade union sense, is correct, if, by this, it is meant that the labor movement – its unions – are made up of the broad mass organizations of the working class. Such bodies admit any worker to their ranks irrespective o£ his political, economic, religious views or lack of them; provided only that such a worker observes the elementary principles of class solidarity and united union action and loyalty in strikes, etc. Such broadness – embracing and organizing every worker into a labor union – is a basic requirement for mass action and striking power for either economic or political purposes by the workers. No question of sectarianism as to the tactics and strategy of the labor movement is involved here, but just common sense. However, every job, every task of the working class requires its particular tools or equipment. Lenin commented succinctly on such matters by pointing out that while ordinary thin shoes may be used on smooth roads, rough roads or mountain climbing require cob-heeled boots. The course of the class struggle also demonstrates the need for ideas (theory) and weapons (tactics and strategy) to fit the situation.

The unique feature of the French Syndicalist Federation [1] (CGT) was not that it was a labor organization that professed no interest, concern or belief in politics, “politicians” and political organizations (as for instance the American IWW). That would be comprehensible, even if woefully wrong and disastrous in results. The unique feature of the CGT was that it was a hybrid of unionism and politics. [2] As a result of this hybrid or mixed character, the French syndicalists were unable to get along with the International Labor Union (International Labor Secretariat) or vice versa, since the latter was, in fact, a body limited to exchange information pertinent to the labor movement, wages, hours, etc.

On the other hand, the French syndicalist organization, professing no set theories or “doctrines,” actually had very definite views on working class political strategy and tactics. These unfortunately were not of a consistent or rounded character, as will be shown below. The CGT thus failed to follow through with the logic of its position, views or “politics.” The CGT, forced to react as a living labor organism to life and to the class struggle, put forward its politics or views in the International Labor Secretariat on such significant issues as working class anti-militarism and the general strike. The ILS, regarding itself as only an information body, rebuffed the initiative of the CGT.

French SP – Parliamentarians

The Socialist Party of France could fittingly be described as a party of parliamentarians, its people leaning more and more on electioneering methods and pressure to achieve the objectives of their party. This trend and emphasis on and toward parliamentarianism had continued and increased enormously since the entry of the socialist leader, Millerand [3], into the French government, as Premier, in June 1899, and of Briand in January 1913. With this early acceptance in essence of the dea of coalition government (which has become known in the contemporary period as the Popular Front), there followed unavoidably more and more general accord with methods of class collaboration on the economic and political fields, finally culminating in the easy surrender by the Socialist Party of France to the crassest and most disastrous epression of class collaboration, namely, social-patriotism.

There were, of course, differences in the French Socialist Party between various groups and individuals, but not of a fundamental character. These divisions were generally ironed out whenever the French parliamentarians wanted to unite against the syndicalists, whom they opposed with great vigor. The best expression of the parliamentarians was Jean Jaurès [4], the highly popular leader of the French Socialist Party, who can be described more accurately as a democrat than a socialist.

Belief in the utilization of the democratic state to advance the cause of socialism and to prevent the scourge of war was not confined to France but was characteristic of the other socialist or social democratic parties of Europe. Revisionism had taken a dominating hold on the European socialist parties since Eduard Bernstein had, with considerable skill, programmatized the concepts of reformism or evolutionary socialism in his book, Evolutionary Socialism. These concepts more and more were accepted in life, if not always in theory, by both the leadership and ranks of the social democracy. With diminishing success small groups of orthodox Marxists in the various parties struggled to maintain the banner of Marxist theory and practice as the First World War approached. The “Possibilists,” as the revisionists were known in France, came steadily to dominate the life of the French party.

Why the Second International Collapsed

In dealing in this article largely with the French labor and revolutionary movement of the war period, we are, therefore, not singling out an exception. Much is known by the working class of the perfidious rôle of the large and powerful German social democracy in the First World War – abject surrender to the commands of the Kaiser and the Junkers; calling upon the German workers to fight for the Fatherland! – actions that caused consternation in the working class movements throughout Europe.

The entire Second International, excepting the small genuine left wings that existed in the respective parties, was permeated, in fact, saturated through and through, with cretinist thought, with illusions of parliamentarianism as the sure and peaceful path to socialism and as the weapon with which to prevent any imperialist conflict. Even as the syndicalists, with their non-political and anti-parliamentary outlook, surrendered to the state, so likewise the European socialist movement, with the limited outlook of parliamentarianism as the proletarian instrument, capitulated before the bourgeois state when war was at their throats.

The split and wreck of the Second International were rooted in the division among socialists on the theories of reformist and revolutionary socialism; even as the splits and wreck of the First International were already rooted in the diverse doctrines of anarchism and scientific socialism [5]; and in the modern period the split and wreck of the Third (Communist) International are rooted in the division on the theory of socialism in one country – national socialism or Stalinism – and the theory of international socialism, the permanent revolution, as expounded by Trotsky and the Fourth Internationalists.

Even as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 were the great objective or external factors that sealed the doom of the First International, the First World War sealed the doom of the Second International; and the rise of fascism and the Second World War will seal irrevocably the doom of the Third International.

The Second International, after the demise of the First, continued to concern itself to such an extent with the anarchist groups, that, indeed, about the only thing that the Second International and its component parts agreed on was the elimination of the anarchist groups. Actually, anarchist doctrine had received smashing blows after the Paris Commune and had ceased to be an important influence in European working class matters, except in Spain [6], and to a small extent in Italy. In France, the anti-Marxist doctrines were primarily syndicalist and only tinged with anarchist doctrine.

That the Second International could preoccupy its mind with the anarchist groups was evidence of its failure to deal with the living issues of labor and the paramount issue of the war in a class and revolutionary manner. This preoccupation helped to turn these “socialists” in revulsion from anarchism and “direct action” to even cruder and, in its consequences, equally criminal reformist doctrine and parliamentary cretinism.

The Second International, moreover, could hardly be regarded as an International, except in form. It is now easy to say it is euphemistic to have called the Second International an International at all. Like its respective parties, the Second International was only superficially united on basic principles. Its units consisted of large amorphous bodies or memberships, mainly right wing or reformist, with centrist and small left wings.

Impotence Due to False Theory of State

What can be stated at this point, without anticipating the course of events, is accepted as axiomatic by the revolutionary Marxists (Fourth Internationalists) of today. That is, that the theory or principles of a movement are decisive for its life. A theory-less movement or a movement which rejects the known basic tenets of revolutionary Marxism is doomed in advance to defeat, either in surrender or futile struggle. Most surely is this the fate of such movements on the central question that faces them and the working class; that is, war. The French syndicalists, for example, with their lack and outright rejection of explicit and consistent political theory finally found themselves, from top to bottom, unable to move cohesively and able only to spout anti-militarist phrases and to talk about the general strike against war. But, as Trotsky said, “a general strike, be it ever so distinguished by mass strength, does not decide the question of power as yet, but only raises it.” The syndicalists denied or ignored the essential question: what should they and the masses they influenced do about the state power, the very real government of the French bourgeoisie – the very real and not at all fictitious instrument for oppression and control of the masses; and especially for corralling or driving the French workers into the imperialist carnage. The syndicalists did not concern themselves with the fundamental question: how were the masses to destroy the state power of the bourgeoisie and to establish their own political or state power – a workers’ state? Therefore, on the burning immediate issue of war or peace in Europe, all that the French syndicalists in the last analysis could do was to call for peace and declare themselves against war. In denying the state, they came at last to capitulate or kneel before the state; and not, alas, before a workers’ government (which has yet to materialize) but before the French bourgeois state they professed so strongly either to ignore or despise.

Likewise, the Socialist Party of France, because of its concept of the theory and practice of socialism also inevitably capitulated in the war crisis to the bourgeois state, to the French bourgeoisie. The revisionist concept that the capitalist state would grow by the process of peaceful development into the Socialist Peoples State, was ingrained in the minds and temper of the French Socialist Party. The great speed of development toward war in the months of 1914 entirely engulfed the organization and quickly paralyzed any appeals or action that the French organization could or did contemplate. Revisionist or reformist doctrines on the rôle of the Party and the road to socialist power resulted in early and swift demoralization of the party, its leadership and ranks, when the bourgeois war machinery began to smoke and then to roar its fires.

Masses Need Leadership Against War

The masses of Europe were against the First World War and had the power of numbers as well as of inclination against the war that finally engulfed them. (For example, in 1906 the proletariat of Sweden and Norway were powerful enough to prevent the outbreak of war between Sweden and Norway by a general strike.) It is clear today that the First World War represented the great defeat of the international proletariat. The masses, it can be repeated, were against the war. They had the power of numbers. They had the inclination to struggle against the war. But the masses cannot spontaneously achieve the defeat of the war objectives of the ruling imperialist class and the masses did not have a revolutionary leadership to guide their efforts. A force was lacking which could see the imperialist conflict in its true light and could advise the proletariat and peasants on a correct course o£ action.

What has been said for the European workers and peasants as a whole could be said particularly of the French labor movement. The workers’ movement had become strong and powerful numerically and had the potentialities of enormous striking power in whatever direction it decided to move. Both the trade union movement, the CGT, and the Socialist Party of France had had to live and grow up under the continual threat and menace of war. There may be cited the “Tangier Incident” in 1905; the Agadir affair in 1911, and the wearing and devastating Balkan wars. It is a calamity of the first order, therefore, that this potential great strength of the French masses against war and for workers’ power was nullified by the woeful lack of revolutionary theory and policy of the dominant leadership of the CGT and the Socialist Party.

In the French CGT, strong resolutions against war had been adopted at its various congresses, in 1904, 1906 and 1908. The resolutions each time grew more vigorous in tone. The 1908 congress asserted that the only boundaries that existed were not geographical, i.e., not between the nations, but between the classes. It was necessary, the congress concluded, to prepare for a general strike against war. Pamphlets in this direction had been issued and many demonstrations against war had been held. In the French Socialist Party the danger of war was constantly in the forefront of socialist discussion, literally from 1905 onward.

The last conference of the French Socialist Party before the outbreak of the war took place in Paris in the middle of July 1914 just three weeks before the war actually broke. The French conference considered a resolution for a general strike, which had been submitted to it jointly by Keir Hardie of the Independent Labor Party of England and Vaillant (the old Communard) of the French Socialist Party, for final adoption by the International Congress. Jean Jaurès, A. Thomas and M. Sembat supported the resolution, but Jules Guesde, leader of the left wing of the French SP, contended that general strike could not be decided upon because, first, the resolution under discussion specified the means to be employed to prevent war, whereas the previous International Congress had decided that all means were to be used. Second, Guesde stated, the general strike could not be decided upon as the weapon because inequality (in standards of living, strength, etc.) prevailed between the workers’ organizations in the various countries.

“Masses Won’t Cooperate”

Howsoever motivated, this argument is specious. Reformists have put forward such arguments through the years to justify upholding the practices and attitude of their own labor and political organizations and of their own government, as against the economically and socially weaker and less advanced countries elsewhere. People like Norman Thomas (see the Socialist Call, January 17, 1942) of the American Socialist Party have done so. So-called left wingers have used this argument to justify support of the present imperialist war against Germany since, ostensibly, the United Nations, while concerned mainly with their imperialist interests, are “more progressive” than Nazism. These are the kinds of arguments that have always been the bridge from class struggle and opposition to the imperialist war, to class collaboration and social patriotism. Their presentation by the “left” Guesde foreshadowed his complete capitulation less than a month after the beginning of the war when he entered the defense cabinet. Gustave Hervé, who for so many years had been a vociferous leader against militarism, also came forward against the proposal for a general strike of labor against the war. Said he, the future rabid social-patriot and red-baiter, the general strike could not be supported because the masses would not cooperate. All the features of the renegade, of renegacy, of compromise and vacillation are here revealed. Blame the masses; they aren’t ready; they won’t cooperate. Before the battle, as the bugle itself is to be heard, the leaders say the masses won’t struggle, whereas in fact the masses but await the call to struggle, and direction by their leaders. How often have these arguments and excuses been used by labor and political leaders to betray their supporters and followers just at the crucial periods!

It may be pointed out here, once again, the better to understand the apparent and real confusion among the leaders, that without exception the various socialist parties of Europe had strong beliefs, even conviction, that their respective governments would not attempt war out of fear of social revolution. Would that history had proved true their faith!

We may return, however, to an earlier period than the French SP Conference of July 1914 to give the graphic picture of the attitude and actions of respective labor and political organizations in the various countries with respect to the growing war menace. On several occasions, international solidarity and action had been achieved.

International Conference and Acts Against War

The international congresses of the Second International had passed resolutions against war. In 1907, the Stuttgart Conference unanimously declared that all means possible against war must be employed, and that war must be used as the opportunity to precipitate the end of capitalism. These are big words, meaningful words, coming from an international congress of socialists. Yet time was to demonstrate, only a short seven years later, that only a very few small groups here and there – for example, among the Russians, Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev; a few in France, Rosmer, Souverine, Loriot; in Germany, Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht; in the Independent Labor Party of England; in Switzerland, Fritz Platten – understood and characterized the war as imperialist on both sides and not worthy of support by the working people; advocated the continuation of the class struggle by the workers during the imperialist conflict; and consciously aimed to achieve the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war and the struggle for workers’ power (successfully achieved finally and only in 1917 by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia). It was this handful of left or revolutionary groups in the various countries who, because of their sound historical and theoretical conception of the nature of capitalism and imperialist war, were alone able to view the European conflict in its true imperialist light and to advise the working people accordingly on their duties and tasks. But unfortunately, they were only a handful. Theoretical confusion and lack of revolutionary objective and will dominated the overwhelming bulk of the leadership of the trade unions and socialist parties of Europe. Chauvinism, social-patriotism won. Europe was drenched in blood for more than four years. Today, more than twenty-five years later, these same fundamental principles have yet to be grasped on a wide scale and a revolutionary and dominant leadership developed in the course of the Second World War.

In 1910, the international conference at Copenhagen considered the question of a general strike against war, but postponed decision until the next international congress, which would have taken place in August 1914. Already between 1907 and 1910 a change in attitude on the policy toward war was reflected in the important question of the general strike. The chief opposition at the Copenhagen conference to the general strike came from the German socialists. The workers of France, Germany and Great Britain had held joint demonstrations against war. When there was danger of war between France and Great Britain [7], the French and English workers had held such a demonstration. From 1911 on, demonstrations against war became a regular feature. Moreover, in 1912 the French CGT and Socialist Party, despite the differences and frictions previously described, had undertaken joint action.

In March 1913 the German Social Democracy and the French Socialist Party issued a joint manifesto on militarism and war. The outstanding features of this joint manifesto were the following: The people wish peace. The ruling classes create national hate. The socialists wish to resolve the danger of military conflict, of war, by arbitration. A militia (people’s army) should be substituted for the regular armies. (With the exception of England’s, all the armed forces were conscript armies). The burden of maintenance of the military machinery, of “defense,” should fall on the rich. The socialists of Germany and France, the manifesto went on to say, are aware of the misuse of the term “militarism” by the respective ruling classes, to incite the people against one another, and to cover their own sins, crimes and persistent preparation and drive for war. Hence the socialists of both countries will fight militarism.

The resolution was an interesting and significant one, both because of what it contained (viz., the above positive propositions) and because of its equally or even more significant omissions. The joint resolution of the great mass socialist parties of Germany and France against war, does not mention capitalism, the class struggle, imperialism. Thereby, these omissions, expressly and implicitly, with or without design, laid the political foundation for the abandonment of class action and solidarity, when the respective governments declared war; and for the passing over of the socialist leaders to “defense of the Fatherland”; to national unity and social-patriotism. When one speaks of “the people” only, and forgets the “working class”; when one speaks of “militarism” and ignores “capitalism and imperialism”; when one speaks of “struggle against war” and forgets “class struggle” – one may state that the militant struggle against capitalist war will not be consummated. This proved to be true in 1914. It has also been proved true in the period leading up to and during the present war with respect to the Comintern’s policy of a “popular front,” “people’s war” and “collective security” against fascism. Where the concept of the class struggle does not prevail, there is guaranteed the betrayal of the masses into war and, as a corollary, the gradual diminution or loss of their democratic and labor rights as well.

It stands out clearly, as we observe the variety of developments in the pre-First World War Period and the manifestations of strength and growth of the labor movement; and as we observe the evidences of weakness and uncertainty on the part of the various governments, that the masses were ready to respond to dynamic, militant leadership in the struggle against war, even as in the lesser struggles they had already carried through. The masses definitely expected international social democracy to give them the necessary leadership at the crucial time.

Capitalist Governments Fear Workers’ Movements

During this period there was evidenced the instability and uncertainty of the bourgeois regimes in their attitude and relations with the laboring masses. Ireland’s long struggle with the British ruling class was about to break into open civil war. In England the “Triple Alliance” (the alliance of the coal miners, railroad and transport workers) of the powerful trade unions was regarded by the British government and The City (the financiers) as a greater menace to its existence and future than the European Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy) of the powerful bourgeois nations.

Italy, scene of many-sided fights – anti-clerical, republican, peasant struggles and proletarian growth – was growing up politically under the direction of a strong Socialist Party. (Today one may recall that Mussolini was establishing his base for future strength and popularity and for his fascist “March on Rome” through editorial participation on a left socialist newspaper and in the socialist movement itself.) Italy’s famous “Red Week” had approached close to insurrection and the direct struggle for power by the masses. Two million workers had gone on strike. With the nearness of war, the Italian labor movement threatened another general strike unless Italy remained neutral.

Belgium’s labor movement was driving forward for its democratic rights and had engaged in a general strike to achieve universal suffrage. The Austrian Empire was beset and menaced by the various nations under her hegemony. The social democracy of Germany was growing almost from day to day, increasing its strength and influence over millions of workers and peasants, and even over large layers of the petty bourgeois or lower middle classes, as Zinoviev’s article [8] has so well established. Its numerical growth and representation in the National Reichstag, and in the states and municipalities throughout the German Empire was not just steady but phenomenal.

Only by a vote of 358 to 204 was the French government able to adopt the three-year conscription law.

In Czarist Russia the labor and revolutionary movement continued to find ways and means to manifest its growth and increasing strength. In 1912 numerous strikes took place throughout Russia. Perhaps the most significant action of the Russian workers was upon the occasion of the visit of Poincaré, President of France, to Russia in July 1914 to confer with his imperialist ally. The workers of St. Petersburg greeted the presence of this French imperialist warmonger on Russian soil with a great strike and demonstration against the Czar and Czarism.

The various governments well knew that they could not pursue a course toward war unless they could achieve a considerable degree of unanimity of the people behind them. The French government time and again insisted that it was for peace and that war was not in its mind or objective. Yet all the responsible bourgeois leaders of the various countries were fully aware that a compromise of the imperialist rivalries between the capitalist nations, short of war, was receding further and further into the background. Several times already incidents had been compromised by diplomacy immediately before the powder keg of the war exploded. Almost anything, just an incident, could precipitate the delayed imperialist war. (That incident, “an affair of honor,” was soon to come with the historic assassination of Duke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian.) So, loudly, the bourgeois government heads shouted and proclaimed a policy of peace. And feverishly they prepared behind the scenes for the inevitable war. The anxious populations of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, England, all the countries, were constantly tossed between assurances of peace and predictions of the inevitability of war. It would almost appear that the hearts and minds of the common people were shuttled between war and peace so mercilessly that any conclusive decision, whether war or peace, might be a relief.

With only weeks (as history showed) before the outbreak of the war, the labor leaders began to place more and more reliance on the respective governments and their promises. With Austria putting pressure on little Serbia, the German social democracy found it possible merely to ask the German government to use its influence and good offices with the Austrian government to desist from its pressure and provocations.

[In the next section of this article we deal with the period of “national unity,” i.e., the first days and months of the outbreak of war. Unable, because of inadequate and false theory, to meet the onrush of the war events, the labor leadership capitulates almost immediately, the majority in the European political and labor organizations cowering on their bellies before the imperialist governments.]


1. For a comprehensive review of French Syndicalism and the rôle of revolutionaries in the labor unions, see Communism and Syndicalism by L.D. Trotsky.

2. We are not discussing here the imperative need for the labor unions to enter as an organized force into politics, and their relations to working class political parties. For example, the Workers Party is an advocate of the formation of an Independent Labor Party of the American workers, based on the labor unions. What is discussed above is why the mixed and confused character and outlook of the CGT regarding politics and political organization caused friction and finally disastrous consequences for the French working class with the outbreak of the First World War.

3. Millerand, socialist leader, entered the cabinet of the bourgeois government of Waldeck-Rousseau and Gallffet, the butcher of the Paris Communards of 1871, forgetting or ignoring that a socialist who joins a capitalist government either goes over to the enemy or puts himself in the power of the class enemy. In 1910 Millerand helped Briand break the railroad strike. By 1920 he had become President of France and was recognizing and aiding the counter-revolutionary General Wrangel in the latter’s fight against the Bolsheviks.

4. “A composite of national traditions, of the metaphysics of moral principles, of love for the oppressed, and of poetic imagination” (Trotsky’s description), Jaurès was truly a popular figure of the masses. Little is it to be wondered at, therefore, that the assassination of Jaurès so greatly affected the common people of France and internally hastened the demoralization of the French Socialist Party.

5. The anarchists, under the dynamic leadership of Michael Bakunin, had been significant instruments in wrecking the First International despite the heroic efforts of the scientific socialists, Marx, Engels and others, to prevent the theoretical and actual disintegration of this – the first important international organization of the proletariat.

6. Only in Spain, in the revolution of 1936 and in the recent civil war, did anarchism, with roots in the labor movement, again raise its head. Here again, because of its anti-statist theory, it could only bow in fact before the bourgeois republic and help cause confusion in the struggle against Franco’s fascists.

7. [The following note is attributed here. There is no other footnote in the printed version. – Note by ETOL]

8. Cf. The Social Roots of Opportunism, The New International, March, April and May 1942. [This note is incorrectly given as note 7 in the printed version. – Note by ETOL]

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