Vanguard October 1915

An Open Letter to the German Social Democracy

Source: Unattributed but certainly translated by Peter Petroff, Vanguard, October 1915, p.2, (damaged page, some words missing);
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Courland has been occupied by German troops, cannons roar at the gates of Riga, and perhaps it is only a question of weeks before the Baltic Provinces are overrun by the German armies. The victory of the German arms is accompanied by a demand in the influential circles of Germany that the Baltic Provinces be annexed in the interests of German Imperialism, and the hypocritical phrase is heard that “this territory is to be freed from the Russian yoke.” It is regrettable that this fairy tale of “liberation” by Hindenburg is believed by those German Social Democrats who expect that Freedom and Democracy may be gained not by collective proletarian action and the struggle of the masses, but by military power and by the favour of the ruling classes. This compels us to make the following declaration:-

The Lettish population of Courland and Livonia won’t hear of a “liberation” by the German Military power. The mass of the Lettish people nurse no hatred against the German people, but they have a fear, which is quite legitimate, that annexation by Germany would strengthen the shattered power of their native Junkers. The Baltic Provinces are politically and economically bound up with Russia, and such an annexation would be a heavy blow to the whole economic life of the land. But, above the class conscious Lettish proletariat, which for several decades already has fought shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionary Russian proletariat, is firmly convinced that the Russian Revolution will be victorious, and from this victory alone, does it await its freedom, but never from a victory of the German (or of the Russian) guns, Zeppelins and submarines.

In the revolutionary year of 1905 the chief aim of the fighting Russian proletariat was a democratic republic. Among the revolutionary demands which were meant to democratize the whole Russian Empire was the demand for autonomy and local self-government for the nationalities composing Russia. The Lettish Social Democracy, supported solidly by the masses, made the following proclamation in the Baltic Provinces: – That the privileges of the native junkers be abolished, that autonomy based on the most progressive democratic principles be introduced, while the Baltic Provinces would still form part of the Russian Empire and the Lettish proletariat, after the overthrow of Tsardom, continue to fight for our democratic and Socialist aims together with the Russian proletariat. Our party still adheres to these principles.

One more thing has to be taken into consideration. The outcome of the war is veiled in darkness; it is just as uncertain what the map of Europe will look like after peace is concluded. Should it happen that the Baltic provinces be joined to Germany the right of the natives to decide that question themselves would have been violated, for – I emphasize it once more – the Lettish people won’t hear of an annexation by Germany. Yes, we Lettish Social Democrats do not wish to put our local interests above the collective interests of the European proletariat; we know that we are free from Nationalist aspirations, and we would continue on the straight path of fighting in a revolutionary way for our Socialist ideals whether we are under Russian or German suzerainty: It is precisely in the interests of the whole European proletariat that we raise our voice and make it known that the proposed annexation of the Baltic Provinces carries in it the germs of future world wars. A new Alsace-Lorraine question would be created in Eastern Europe, for the Russian Empire, as long as the Capitalist Powers continue to exist on their present basis, could not afford to be shut off from the Baltic. They would arm themselves ???? for battles like the present, again nation would be set against nation till a fresh slaughter of the nations would break out, more terrible than the present.

The Lettish Social Democratic Workers have taken up this attitude right from the beginning of the war. This war serves the imperialist interests of the Capitalist Powers, the proletariat has no “fatherland” to defend in this war, and the enemy is in one’s own land. The Lettish workers have concluded no “truce,” they have continued their economic and political fight and have carried on their work in the open and underground. Above all, they have protested against the war with all the means in their power, and have incited the masses against Tsardom, against the Capitalist regime of violence. Thousands and thousands of appeals against the war have been scattered by our Party (in the Lettish, Lithuanian and Russian languages), agitation has been carried into soldiers’ barracks, leaflets spread in the troop

(page torn, words missing) and even at the front. In spite of military law and the
(page torn, words missing) of military law, in spite of hard labour in prison and
(page torn, words missing) comrades stopped at no sacrifice and were frightened by
(page torn, words missing) to be able to work for the international solidarity
(page torn, words missing) and to prove their revolutionary Socialist con
(page torn, words missing)

The Lettish Social Democrats were not discouraged when the official German Social Democratic Party, by its action on August 4, betrayed the principles of International Socialism and the International collapsed. (We condemn just as strongly our Russian “Patriotic Socialists,” neither do we acquit the Chauvinist leaders of the French, English and Belgian parties, but we do not forget the fact that the second International was led by the German Social Democracy.) The Lettish proletariat) together with its Russian comrades fighting for the Revolution, has not doubted that the Socialist International will be born again, that the proletariat will be victorious in the coming Social Revolution. Even at the moment when German troops were pouring into the land, when the whole country was being devastated by Russian and German soldiers, when hundreds of thousands of cold and hungry refugees filled all the roads – even in this hour of trial the Lettish Social Democracy clung fast to the banner of international proletarian solidarity. When cannons roared in our land and houses and villages went up in smoke, our party issued appeals to the effect that the German workers could not be our enemies, that they were forced, against their own will, to take part in this detestable war, that the blame for this immense calamity falls upon the capitalist system which now prevails.

The whole of Courland (as well as Poland and Lithuania) is devastated and depopulated, yet the official German Party votes for war credits, for the carrying on of the war, for further bloodshed, and claims that it does all that to defend its “fatherland.” Owing to the occupation of the Baltic Province the Lettish Labour movement has been stifled, its organisations for the most part disrupted, and its fight against the war and Tsardom interrupted; we cannot acquit the German Party Executive of the charge that it has sanctioned this blow at the Lettish working class through its nationalist policy. The Lettish Social Democracy fought in the vanguard of the Russian proletariat – now the German occupation has cut it off from the revolutionary Russian workers. That is what the “liberation” looks like which the official German Social Democracy thinks is being bestowed upon us through Hindenburg. That is how low the Party has sunk which for decades led and taught us, which was the pride and hope of the whole International.....

In spite of all that our Party carries on the struggle. The thousands of organised Lettish Comrades, who are now being scattered over the whole of Russia, carry with them the war cry: the revolutionary duties of a proletarian to his class come first, and above all he should also strive to end the War and overthrow Tsardom. The Letts will do their duty together with the Russian comrades, yet they have the right to turn to the German working class and to ask: “What have you done and what will you do to put an end to this terrible slaughter of the nations and revive the International?

We hope for nothing from the Executive Committee of the German Social Democracy. But we have not yet lost faith in the masses of the German workers whose class consciousness burns in them, and we call out to them: “Enter upon the fight (page torn, words missing) putting an immediate end to the war, make your collective T known in every possible way, give up your truce with the Nationalist Parties, become fighters for the great and holy cause of the international proletariat! For, in the present international situation, it is the mass action of the German proletariat that can stem the tide of the madness of Nationalism with which most of the Socialist Parties in the warring countries are obsessed; the German proletariat can disrupt the Nationalist block and call forth a similar movement in the other States at war, it can put a stop to the war and again lead the European proletariat under its old banner of Internationalism. Only through such a collective mass action can the German proletariat wipe out the guilt which the official German Social Democracy has incurred by its policy during the war.

In the name of Lettish Social Democracy,


August, 1915.