First Congress of the Communist International

The Attitude to the ‘Socialist’ Currents and to the Berne Conference

Source: Theses Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congress of the Third International, translated by Alix Holt and Barbara Holland. Ink Links 1980;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

5 March 1919


As early as 1907, at the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart which discussed the question of colonial policy and imperialist wars, it was clear that the majority of the Second International and more than half its leaders held views on these questions which were much closer to those of the bourgeoisie than to those of the Communists, Marx and Engels.

Nevertheless the Stuttgart congress passed the following amendment, put forward by V. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, representatives of the revolutionary wing:

“If, however, a war should break out, socialists are obliged to intervene to bring fighting to a speedy conclusion and to exploit in every way the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thus accelerate the overthrow of capitalist rule . . .”

At the Basel congress, held in November 1912, during the Balkan war, the II International declared:

“The bourgeois governments should not forget that the Franco-Prussian war resulted in the revolutionary rising of the Paris Commune and the Russo-Japanese war led to the development of the Russian revolutionary movement. The workers consider it a crime to shoot one another for the sake of capitalist profits, dynastic competition and the flourishing of diplomatic treaties.”

As late as the end of July and the beginning of August 1914, twenty-four hours before the outbreak of the World War, the leading organs and bodies of the Second International were denouncing the approaching war as a heinous crime of the bourgeoisie.

The statements issued by the leading parties of the Second International at the time serve as the most eloquent indictment of its leaders.

When the first shots of the imperialist carriage were fired, the leading parties of the Second International betrayed the working class, and each, using the formula ‘defence of the fatherland’ as a screen, went over to the side of ‘its’ bourgeoisie. Scheidemann and Ebert in Germany, Thomas and Renaudel in France, Henderson and Hyndman in Britain, Vandervelde and De Broukere in Belgium, Renner and Pernerstorfer in Austria, Plekhanov and Rubanovich in Russia, Branting and his party in Sweden, Gompers and his followers in the United States, Mussolini and Co. in Italy – all these leaders called upon the proletariat to reject ‘war on war’ and conclude a ‘civil peace’, turning themselves, thereby, into cannon-fodder for the imperialists.

This was the moment of the final bankruptcy and demise of the Second International.

The general course of economic development had given the bourgeoisie in the wealthiest countries the opportunity to tempt and buy off the upper layers of the working class – the labour aristocracy – with crumbs from its enormous profits. The petty-bourgeois ‘fellow-travellers’ of socialism swelled the ranks of the official social-democratic parties and gradually altered their politics in a bourgeois direction.

From the leaders of the peaceable parliamentary labour movement, the heads of the trade unions, the secretaries, editors and officials of social democracy there developed a caste – a labour bureaucracy with its own selfish group interests, essentially hostile to socialism.

Owing to these circumstances, the official social democracy degenerated into an anti-socialist and chauvinistic party.

Three basic currents began to emerge within the Second International. During the course of the war, even before the onset of the proletarian revolution, the distinctions between these three currents were drawn with utmost clarity;

1. The social-chauvinist current (the ‘majority’ tendency). The most typical representatives of this group are the German social democrats, who are at present sharing power with the bourgeoisie, and have thus made themselves a party to the murder of the leaders of the Communist International, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

The social-chauvinists have now shown themselves, beyond doubt, to be the class enemies of the proletariat. They are pursuing the programme of ‘liquidating’ the war prescribed by the bourgeoisie; transferring the lion’s share of taxation to the working masses, acknowledging the inviolability of private property, allowing the army to remain in the hands of the bourgeoisie, dissolving the Soviets of workers’ deputies that are being formed everywhere, leaving political power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – in short, the mobilisation of bourgeois ‘democracy’ against socialism.

In spite of the vigorous struggle that the Communists have waged against the ‘majority’ social democrats, the workers have not yet completely grasped the danger to the international proletariat that the traitors represent.

One of the most important tasks of the international proletarian revolution is to open the workers’ eyes to the Judas-like role of the social-chauvinists and to use force to render harmless this counter-revolutionary party.

2. The ‘centrist’ current (social-pacifists, Kautskyites, Independents). This current began to form in the pre-war years, chiefly in Germany.

At the beginning of the war the ‘centre’ nearly everywhere was in general agreement with the social-chauvinists. Kautsky, the theoretical leader of the ‘centre’, came forward in defence of the policy pursued by the German and French social-chauvinists. He saw the International as only a ‘peace-time instrument’. “Fight for peace”, “class struggle is for peace-time” – these were Kautsky’s slogans.

From the very beginning of the war the ‘centre’ insisted upon ‘unity’ with the social-chauvinists. Even after the murder of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg the ‘centre’ has continued to preach the same ‘unity’, i.e., unity of the Communist workers with the murderers of the Communist leaders, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

Early in the war the ‘centre’ (Kautsky, Victor Adler, Turati, Macdonald) began to advocate a ‘reciprocal amnesty’, which was to apply to the leaders of the socialist parties of Germany and Austria on the one hand, and of France and Britain on the other. The ‘centre’ is still advocating this amnesty today, after the war has ended, and is thereby preventing the workers from reaching a clear understanding of the reasons for the collapse of the Second International.

The ‘centre’ sent delegates to the international conference held by the social-traitors at Berne, thus making it easier for the Scheidemanns and Renaudels to deceive the workers.

It is absolutely essential to split the most revolutionary elements from the ‘centre’. This can be done only by mercilessly criticizing and exposing the ‘centrist’ leaders. An organisational break with the ‘centre’ is an absolute historic necessity. The task of the Communists is to determine at which moment the break should be made, in accordance with the level of development the movement has reached in their respective countries.

3. The Communists. The Communists in the Second International defended Communist-Marxist views on war and on the tasks of the proletariat (the Lenin-Luxemburg amendment at Stuttgart in 1907, for example), but they remained a minority.

Organisations of this current – the ‘left – radical’ group (later the Spartacists) in Germany, the Bolshevik party in Russia, the ‘Tribunists’ in Holland, the youth group in Sweden, and the left-wing of the Youth International in a whole number of countries – formed the nucleus of the new International .

This tendency, faithful to the interests of the proletariat, proclaimed from the very start the slogan “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war”.

This tendency has now organised itself into the Third International.


The socialist conference held in Berne in February 1919 was an attempt to revive the corpse of the II International.

The composition of the Berne gathering is clear evidence that this conference is absolutely alien to the revolutionary proletariat.

The victorious Russian proletariat, the heroic proletariat of Germany, the Italian proletariat, the communist section of the proletariat of Austria and Hungary, the proletariat of Switzerland, the working class of Bulgaria, Rumania, Serbia, the left-wing workers’ parties of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Ukrainian, Latvian and Polish proletariat, the most advanced sections of the organised British proletariat, the Youth International and the Women’s International demonstratively refused to take part in the Berne conference of social-patriots.

Of the participants, those who still have some real contact with the workers’ movement formed an opposition group, which at least spoke against the policy of the social-patriots when the most important question – appraisal of the Russian revolution – was up for discussion. The declaration of the French comrade, Loriot, who castigated the majority of the Berne conference as the accomplices of the bourgeoisie, expresses the true opinion of class-conscious workers throughout the world.

On the so-called ‘question of guilt’, the Berne conference kept within the framework of bourgeois ideology. The German and French social-patriots made the same charges against each other as had the German and French bourgeoisie. The Berne conference lost itself in the petty details of this or that step taken by bourgeois ministers in the prewar period and was unwilling to admit that capitalism – the finance capital of both coalitions with their social-patriotic lackeys – was the real war criminal. The social patriots wanted to find out who bore the main responsibility for the war. They need only have looked in the mirror to have caught a glimpse of several of the chief war criminals.

The declaration of the Berne Conference on the territorial question is full of ambiguities. This ambiguity plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The most reactionary representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie, M. Clemenceau, acknowledged the services rendered to imperialist reaction by the Berne social-patriotic conference, by receiving a delegation from the conference and inviting it to take part in the relevant commissions of the imperialist conference in Paris.

On the colonial question it emerged clearly that the Berne conference follows the lead of that liberal-bourgeois colonial policy which justifies the exploitation and enslavement of colonies by the imperialist bourgeoisie, seeking only to hide its actions behind humanitarian and philanthropic phrases. The Germany social-patriots demanded that the German colonies should continue to belong to the German Reich, that is, should continue to be exploited by German capital. The disagreements that have surfaced over this question show that the social-patriots of the Entente hold what is essentially the viewpoint of slave-owners, and consider the continued exploitation of their colonies by French and British capitals something to be taken for granted. From its discussions it was obvious that the Berne conference had completely forgotten the slogan, ‘Clear out of the colonies’.

The debate on the question of the ‘League of Nations’ made it clear that the Berne Conference was following in the footsteps of those bourgeois elements who would stop at nothing in order to strangle the proletarian revolution. Instead of exposing the wheeling and dealing of the robber band in Paris, the delegates at Berne gave the imperialist conference their support, and in doing so accepted the humiliating role of an instrument of imperialism.

The servile attitude of the conference, which entrusted the question of labour legislation to the Paris conference of bourgeois governments, shows that the social-patriots have consciously decided in favour of preserving capitalist wage slavery and are ready to fob off the working class with petty reforms.

It was only the efforts of the opposition that foiled the attempts, inspired by the policy of the bourgeoisie, to force the Berne conference to pass a resolution which would have provided a cover for future armed intervention in Russian affairs. We see this victory of the Berne opposition over the outspoken chauvinist elements as indirect proof that the proletariat of Western Europe sympathises with the Russian proletarian revolution and is ready to fight against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The extent to which these servants of the bourgeoisie fear the inevitable spreading of the workers’ councils is manifest in their cowardly anxiety to avoid discussion of these bodies, despite their universal historical significance.

The workers’ councils are the most important development since the Paris Commune. By ignoring them the Berne Conference has openly proclaimed its moral poverty and theoretical bankruptcy.

The congress of the Communist International considers that the ‘International’ the Berne conference is trying to resurrect is a yellow, strike-breaking international, which is nothing more than a weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

The congress appeals to the workers of all countries to wage a resolute struggle against the scab International and to protect the broad masses from this lying and fraudulent organisation.