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For a New Zimmerwald

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On August 4, 1914, the First World War broke out. The Second International had an official policy of opposing the war. But this collapsed under the pressure of wartime hysteria and with a few brave exceptions, broke up with each section voting for workers to go to war to kill other workers. The remaining revolutionary forces regrouped at Zimmerwald in Switzerland in 1915 to take a stand against the war, calling for workers to turn their guns on their own ruling classes. [See Lenin’s ‘Socialism and War’] The ‘left’ at Zimmerwald were to be the core of the revolutionaries who went on to make the Russian revolution and build the 3rd Communist International. In a three-part article, we argue that we are living through a similar period were the left is not prepared to fight the drive to war. We call for the rallying of left forces in a new Zimmerwald to build a revolutionary opposition to new imperialist wars. Part one deals with the years before the conference at Zimmerwald in 1915.

[All page references are to ‘Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years.’-see endnote].

Many communist and revolutionary socialist forces around the world recognise that with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the victory of imperialism in the late 1980’s the workers of the world experienced an historic defeat. Yet, this defeat was not one that smashed all the past gains of workers won over the previous centuries. Nor could this victory postpone for long the onset of a more serious world recession that would once more see the workers and poor peasants mobilised in defence of their hard-won gains, and imperialism embark on a drive to war to revive its falling profits. The onset of the current world recession and the drive to war that began with the Gulf War in 1990 has vindicated this perspective. We are now facing a period of worsening crisis and polarisation of classes world-wide, that pits workers revolution against imperialist counter-revolution. The time has arrived once more for the surviving communist forces to rise up again against imperialist war to overthrow capitalism and build of a socialist world.

The situation resembles the crisis facing humanity with the onset of the first imperialist war in 1914. Workers in every country are being rallied by their bosses behind the national flag to go to war against ‘evil’ in whatever guise the ruling class says. We need to mobilise our forces in the same way that the communist fighters did against the first war at Zimmerwald in 1915 and Kienthal in 1916. Here they broke with the rotten International of Social Democracy and raised the cry for workers to shoot their bosses and not each other. In taking this stand they rallied around them the forces that would make the Russian Revolution and become the new Communist International, the 3rd international.

Zimmerwald, a town in Switzerland gave its name to a conference held in Sept 1915 to rally all the anti-war forces, pacifists, defencists, and the Bolsheviks. The majority refused to break with the 2nd International, while the Zimmerwald ‘Left’ called for “civil war not civil peace” and the overthrow of capitalism. The ‘Left’ position was rejected at Zimmerwald. By the end of 1916 the Left split from the majority so it could rally those sections of workers who were beginning to resist the war to its revolutionary program. The broad Zimmerwald movement was anti-war, but not anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist. It was still heavily influenced by chauvinism and pacifism. Why then did the Bolsheviks remain in it for more than a year? Did they, while they were inside, and while they were outside, adopt the best tactics to win workers over to the revolutionary position? These questions are important because a New Zimmerwald movement must avoid making the mistakes of the First. Before addressing these questions, what took the anti-war movement more than a year to unite at Zimmerwald? What were they doing in the years immediately before the outbreak of war and the year following?

Pre-Zimmerwald: Stuttgart 1907

The 2nd International didn’t suddenly jump on the nationalist bandwagon in August 1914. It had been moving in that direction for years. At the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 a sizable minority argued for a ‘socialist’ colonisation policy; i.e. that colonisation was necessary to advance human civilisation provided the method of colonisation was not exploitative! Bernstein (the famous German socialist) said “The colonies are there; we must come to terms with that. Socialists too should acknowledge the need for civilised peoples to act somewhat like guardians of the uncivilised”. (LSNI: 10). That made the imperialist countries out to be ‘civilised’! If they were bad imperialists and mistreated the colonies or immigrants, they could be made into ‘good’ imperialists, or even cease to be imperialist, with the correct ‘socialist’ colonial policy! Even though his ‘social imperialist’ tendency was outvoted, it showed that the rot was setting in. What was the material cause of this rot? Lenin was onto it.

Lenin commented:

“This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First, it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism, which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying by Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; while modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians…However, as the result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletariat partly finds itself in a position when it is not its own labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole society. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism.” (39).

On the question of war, the Stuttgart Congress debated four resolutions, two of which called for workers actions against war to include strikes and insurrections (one as the last resort); while two called vaguely for “appropriate measures” or “intervention”. Two extreme tendencies opposed each other. One tendency [Bebel] saw imperialist war as ‘militarism’ that could be resisted by socialists, first by voting against it, but if necessary going to war against ‘militarism’ to defend the ‘workers father land’. That meant that workers in every country would be dragooned to fight in ‘defensive’ wars to defend ‘their’ fatherland. The other tendency talked of stopping wars by uniting workers across national frontiers to refuse to fight imperialist wars. “Our class -that is our fatherland” [Herve] (LSRI: 27). Herve said of the German Social Democratic Party (and its ‘workers’ fatherland’): “…you have now become an electoral and accounting machine, a party of cash registers and parliamentary seats. You want to conquer the world with ballots. But I ask you: When the German soldiers are sent off to re-establish the throne of the Russian Tsar [this was two years after the 1905 revolution] when Prussia and France attack the proletarians, what will you do? …the whole of German Social Democracy has now become Bourgeois. Today Bebel went over to the revisionists when he told us: “Proletarians of all countries, murder each other”. (28)

Lenin commented on the anti-militarism debates criticising Herve as a ‘semi-anarchist’ who did not see that war was necessary to capitalism and stopping wars could only be achieved by ‘replacing capitalism with socialism’.

“However, underlying all these semi-anarchistic absurdities of Herveism there was one sound and practical purpose: to spur the socialist movement so that it will not be restricted to parliamentary methods of struggle alone, so that the masses will realise the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labour solidarity and the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses.” (41)

In the middle of these two extremes but leaning towards Bebel, was Jaures who argued that socialism could reform the imperialists and prevent war by means of an international arbitration court, but if push came to shove, strikes and insurrection would be necessary. He saw war as an extension of the class war which up to then had been managed successfully by the big socialist parties. In reality, Jaures believed that negotiations would suffice and make militant actions unnecessary. In the middle also, but leaning away from Bebel was Rosa Luxemburg who spoke of the recent Russian Revolution and the need for workers to use the general strike against war not only to end war, but to “hasten the overthrow of class rule in general”. She moved an amendment along these lines which she drafted (along with Lenin and Martov of the Russian Social Democrats) which was incorporated into the final draft.

The Resolution was a compromise. On the one hand ‘militarism’ was bad policy, on the other, militarism was vital to the survival of capitalism. These were clearly two very different views of imperialist militarism! But Lenin regarded the result as good. The left got in its view of militarism as necessary for capitalism to survive and for the struggle against war to be also a struggle against capitalism. He was pleased that the resolution spelled out the methods that social democracy would use, and could not be misinterpreted by the reformist Vollmar or by the semi-anarchist Herve. (42) However, despite the amendments from the revolutionary left which strengthened the Stuttgart resolution on War and Militarism, it was clear that a growing element in of the international viewed capitalism, imperialism and militarism as reformable by social democracy. Herve characterised the German element around Bebel as “bourgeois”, “satisfied” and “well fed”.

Lenin’s view was that the material benefits of colonialism created an “aristocracy of labour” in the imperialist countries.

Thus, the move away from proletarian internationalism towards the socialist fatherland was the result of the success of the movement in legislating for reforms. But these reforms were paid for by the imperialist super-profits extracted from the colonies, and the ‘socialist’ adaptation to super-profits took the form of ‘social imperialism” or: “social chauvinism” -i.e. the civilising socialism of the ballot. Lenin summed up rather optimistically that despite the sharp contrast between the “opportunist and revolutionary wings” … “the work done at Stuttgart will greatly promote the unity of tactics and unity of revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of all countries”.

Nine years later, when the Second International has collapsed in the face of the war, Zinoviev commented that at Stuttgart the coming war was clearly seen on the horizon and it was understood that it would be the life and death test of the International. Yet the opportunists had already “won the upper hand”. “Bebel, Jaures, Branting, Vandervelde, Vollmar, and Vaillant all spoke about “the nation” and “the fatherland” in terms which the social patriots of all countries now find it easy to justify their “new” tactics…Only one speech delivered at Stuttgart differed….in principle – Rosa Luxemburg’s. This speech provided, although not yet in a fully finished form, the basis of the revolutionary Marxist position”. (44)

Zinoviev tried to explain how a resolution that embodied such contradictory positions could be agreed to. The opportunist majority stood for “defence of the fatherland” yet they agreed to the revolutionary amendments. On the one hand they could not openly take a position in defence of the ‘revolutionary father land’ when everyone knew the war would be between bloody imperialist ‘fatherlands’. Second, the revolutionary amendments on strikes and insurrections was “watered-down” by lawyers to avoid the German SD being prosecuted (47). The result was less than Lenin wrote at the time, a congress in the “spirit of revolutionary Marxism”, but more a compromise congress in which the revolutionary left was indulged by an opportunist majority who did not need to proclaim their revisionism openly because they had the material means (voting and bookkeeping) to decide the issue in reality. So the scene was set for further retreats in the years between 1907 and 1914.

The years 1907-1914

The next international Congress was at Copenhagen in 1910. The international became more divided on how to respond to the coming war. Commenting on the German Party Congress at Magdeburg in September 1910 Lenin put his finger on the reason for the failure to take a strong internationalist stand on the war. He recognises that the socialists in Germany have been sucked into a legal apparatus and were unsure how to break with bourgeois legality (parliamentarism).

“The chief feature of this peculiar pre-revolutionary situation consists in the fact that the coming revolution must inevitably be incomparably more profound, more radical, drawing far broader masses into a more difficult, stubborn and prolonged struggle than all previous revolutions. Yet at the same time this pre-revolutionary situation is marked by the greater (in comparison with anything hitherto) domination of legality, which has become an obstacle to those who introduced it…The era of utilising the legality created by the bourgeoisie is giving way to an era of tremendous revolutionary battles, and these battles, in effect, will be the destruction of all bourgeois legality, the whole bourgeois system…” (67)

The Copenhagen resolution against militarism echoed the Stuttgart resolution. It called on workers to use all measures available to stop war, but it stopped well short of the internationalist position that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war. During the Copenhagen Congress Lenin tried to rally the left wing without success. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a critique of the ‘Peace Utopias’ evident in the resolution. She ridiculed the utopia that imperialists could make peace as flying in the face of imperialist economic expansion and rivalry.

“Arms limitation and curbing militarism are not part of international capitalism’s further development. In fact, they could result only from the stagnation of capitalist development…Only those who think that class antagonisms can be softened and be blunted, and that capitalist economic anarchy can be contained, can think it possible that these international conflicts can subside, ease, or dissolve. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are only the complement of class antagonisms, and world political anarchy is but the reverse side of the anarchic system of capitalist production. Only together can they grow and only together can they be overcome. “A little peace and order” is, therefore, impossible, a petty-bourgeois utopia, as much so in the capitalist world market as in world politics, in the limitation of crises as in the limitation of armaments.” (71)

A confrontation between German and French troops in Morocco in July 1911 showed Rosa Luxemburg to be correct. Hermann Molkenbuhr of the SPD executive claimed that the German government had provoked the crisis to “divert attention from the domestic situation and create a mood favourable to them in the Reichstag elections”. He argued that this ruse would fail as ‘pro-French’ industrial capitalists would stop the war as it was against their interests to go to war.

Luxemburg responded attacking the concept that different national imperialist rivalries that surfaced in Morocco could be stopped by a common interest among German and French firms to ‘share’ colonial booty. She summed up Molkenbuhr’s argument:

“Leave it to the grandees of the steel monopolies to order a halt to the German action in Morocco at the appropriate moment. As for us, we will pay as little attention as possible to the entire affair, since we have other business to attend to, namely the Reichstag elections…It is best not to rely on the commitment to peace of any particular capitalist clique, but on the resistance of the enlightened masses as a force for peace…Above all we must carry out socialist education in the Reichstag elections. This cannot be accomplished, however, if we aim our criticism exclusively at Germany’s internal political conditions, and fail to portray the overall international context – capital’s deepening domination over all parts of the world, the obvious anarchy everywhere you look, and the prominent role of colonialism and world power politics in this process. We must not fashion our electoral agitation as some simplistic political primer cut down to a couple of catchy slogans, but as the Socialist world view in its all-encompassing totality and diversity.” (77).

At this time there broke out in the German party a debate on the nature of imperialism. Was it doomed to go to war by its very nature, or was war a sort of aberration, even an accident, that could be corrected by socialist peace policies? On the left was Pannekoek, Radek and others, on the Right was Kautsky, Hesse, Bernstein and others. The left was defending the existing position while the right was looking for a parliamentary road to socialism by arguing that modern imperialism had investments in every country so could not afford to go to war. Kautsky theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ expressed this clearly.

Pannekoek neatly summed up the revisionists’ views:

“We often hear talk of imperialism as a sort of mental derangement of the bourgeoisie…Bernstein speaks of a spiritual epidemic. But we should not conceive of it in such an un-Marxist manner, as if it were an accident.”

Lensch also had some ripe words:

“Comrades! How did the international arms build-up which we have witnessed these last ten years come about? Is it really just a case of international misunderstanding? That would mean that world history had made mistake, as it were: that a capitalism without resort to force, without colonies and fleets is also feasible. No doubt that is true, but only in a vacuum! Perhaps in your imagination or on paper, you can conceive of a capitalism without violence. But we deal with the real capitalism here on earth. Our task cannot be to correct World History’s homework, and say, “Dear World History, here is your work back! Its swarming with mistakes. I marked them all in red. In the future I expect better work from you.” (80).

In October 1912 the International was put to the test by the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria attacked Turkey which was defeated and forced to withdraw from its European possessions. Then Serbia, Greece and Romania turned against Bulgaria. What was the role of international socialists in this war? All the various socialist parties took a stand against the war. In Bulgaria a Socialist parliamentarian was assaulted when he spoke out against the war. Yet in each country this opposition got more popular as the death and destruction affected the people. The international correctly saw the Balkan wars as a forerunner of imperialist war. Both sides in the war were pawns of imperialism so the war had to be opposed and stopped by revolutionary means.

An emergency congress was held at Basel November 24-25 1912. The Basel Manifesto began by quoting the earlier Stuttgart and Copenhagen resolutions against war including ‘civil war’, but again refrained from calling on workers to use the methods of ‘strikes and insurrections’ to stop the war.

While the war in the Balkans did not see any wavering from the official line, in the German party the centre and right began to grow in influence as it was put under pressure to vote for money to expand the military. In March 1913 the SDP deputies (MP’s) voted for a huge increase in military spending. The measure needed the SPD support to pass, so the government tried to win its support by introducing an income tax rather than a flat tax that would hit the poor hard. After a sharp debate the majority abandoned the principle ‘not one man, not one penny for war’ and voted for the Bill. At the Party’s Jena Conference in 1913 the leftist position calling for a mass strike in the event of war was outvoted 142 to 333 in favour of the rightist position against the general strike.

Again, Rosa Luxemburg sounded the warning that this capitulation to social chauvinism would lead to disaster with the outbreak of war.

“What will happen if war breaks out and we can do nothing more to avert it? The question will then arise whether the costs should be covered by indirect or direct taxes, and you will then logically support the approval of war credits…the position will lead us onto a slippery slope where there is no way to stop. Let our resolution therefore put an end to such cheating on principles by proclaiming, “So far and no further!” (94)

Jena was the last Congress of the united SDP. The SDP was now split into three factions, Left, Right, and Centre.

 

[2] The Collapse of the International

 This is the second part of an article that examines the history of the Zimmerwald movement against imperialist war in 1915, in preparation for a ‘new Zimmerwald’ today to oppose the drive to imperialist war. The first part showed that in the years after 1907 the Second International while formally anti-imperialist became rotten at the core with a rightward opportunist movement rooted in the labor bureaucracy. This set the scene for the historic betrayal of August 4, 1914. In this second part we take the story further to show how the revolutionary left was vigorous in challenging the ‘pacifist’ and centrist opposition to the war, notably Liebknecht’s famous vote against war credits, but failed to see the urgency of organizing a strong anti-imperialist war movement.

August 4, 1914.

The outbreak of war saw the rotten centre of the International exposed in a massive betrayal. Despite many dire warnings, this event was still a huge shock for the ‘left’. Rosa Luxemburg co-founder of the new revolutionary journal Die Internationale wrote in the leading article in the first issue “The Reconstruction of the International”:

“On August 4, 1914 German Social Democracy abdicated politically; at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. Every attempt to deny these facts or go gloss them over, regardless of its motive, in reality serves only to perpetuate the disastrous self-deception of the Socialist parties and the internal sickness that led to their collapse.” (183) “A body of four million strong allowed a handful of parliamentarians to turn it around in twenty-four hours and harness it to a wagon going in a direction opposite to its aim in life…Marx, Engels, and Lassalle; Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer trained the German proletariat so that Hindenburg could lead it” (186)

Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin all drew the conclusion that this betrayal did not call into question either Marxism or the revolution. It was the result of alien class forces and the ‘internal sicknesses’ of the party. They all called for the reconstruction of a new International to replace the collapsed Second. However, almost immediately differences emerged on how to fight the war. Trotsky said that workers had to stop the war to preserve their power and so use their arms to fight for the United States of Europe. But how? Mobilize for peace? “Neither victory or defeat” was his slogan. [155] Lenin argued that workers must oppose the war by calling for the defeat of their own country. It was necessary to turn imperialist war into civil war by turning their weapons on their own bourgeoisie. [156] Trotsky criticized the Bolsheviks for their defeatism in Russia as unrealistic. It is “an uncalled for and absolutely unjustified concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation – highly arbitrary in the present conditions – towards the lesser evil”. Trotsky wants to avoid defeats as they “disorganize the whole of social life, and above all else the working class”. [165]

Lenin responded that this was typical of Trotsky’s “high-flown” phrases with which he “justifies opportunism”. He criticised Trotsky for calling for peace without any means of linking this to revolution i.e. defeatism. “‘A revolutionary struggle against the war’ is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime.” [166]. Lenin accused Trotsky of ‘opportunism’ because Trotsky assumed that the call for the defeat of Russia must mean the victory of Germany. The ‘lesser evil’ means that Russian workers will see the victory of Germany as preferable to the victory of the Tsar. And Trotsky is not prepared to swim against this stream of social-patriotism. But, said Lenin the 2nd International position was clear:

“In all the imperialist countries the proletariat now desire the defeat of its own government”. So, in rejecting the call for workers in all countries to defeat their governments, and adopting the position that one nation must win, it is Trotsky that adapts to the “political methodology of social-patriotism” [167].

Trotsky was moving toward Kautsky’s fatalist view that neither revolutions nor international solidarity between workers of different countries is possible in an imperialist war. That’s why the call for ‘peace’ is substituted for ‘defeatism’ because it does not challenge social-patriotism. It means in effect “neither victory nor defeat”.  This is a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan because it is a ‘class truce’. The working class is neither for nor against the war policy of its ruling class which also claims to be ‘against defeat’. [168] So the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the war. That is why the Italian government threatened its social democrats with ‘treason’ if it called a general strike. This is why the Tsarist government charged Russia’s social-democrats with ‘high treason’.

For Lenin:

“A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign country’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’ imperialist ‘Great Power’” [169]. “…Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task. It is the proletariat in the most backward of the belligerent Great Powers which, through the medium of their party, have had to adopt – especially in the view of the shameful treachery of the German and French Social-Democrats – revolutionary tactics that are quite unfeasible unless they ‘contribute to the defeat’ of their own government, but which alone lead to a European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism, to the liberation of humanity from the horrors, misery, savagery and brutality now prevailing.” [170]

In Germany it was some months before the revolutionary left was able to mobilize opposition to the leadership’s betrayal. Small meetings in working class branches supported the minority opposition to war credits but also criticized the minority for upholding party discipline and voting with the war credits majority in the Reichstag. In Stuttgart on September 21, a meeting of SPD elected leaders condemned the war credits stand by 81 to 3. Liebknecht responded:

“You are quite right for criticizing me. Even if alone, I should have called out my “No!” in the Reichstag and so informed the whole world that the talk of unanimity of the Reichstag and the German people is a lie”. [173]

In November in the Berlin suburb of Niederbarnim local left wingers also took a stand against the war credits: “Had the Social Democratic faction done its duty on August 4, the external form of the organization would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained…then the German working class would have carried out its historic mission.” Their conclusion was to build a new party and begin underground work.

“The Main Enemy is at Home”: Liebknecht and the Spartacists

On December 2, 1914 Karl Liebknecht took his historic stand and cast the sole vote against war appropriations. [174] In a declaration, “Explanation of War Credits Vote”, distributed as an illegal leaflet he explained his political stand. In the leaflet, Liebknecht said he refused to vote for war credits because the war “is an imperialist war, fought for the capitalist domination of the world market and for the political domination of important territories for settlement of industrial and finance capital’” [175]

Liebknecht was drafted into the army on 7 February 1915. Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and jailed on 18 February. Despite the repression, the left SDs formed an underground opposition to imperialist war in the factories and working-class areas, known as the ‘Spartacists’ – the name of the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Their main slogan became “The Main Enemy is at Home”!

But it was the Russian revolutionaries who spelled out what revolutionary defeatism meant.

“Who is it that threatens the Russian people? Who should we combat? They say it is the Germans…But it is the landlords, the factory owners, the big proprietors and merchants who steal from us; it is the police, the tsar, and his hangers-on who rob us. And when we have had enough of this robbery, and call a strike to protect our interests, then the police, the soldiers, and the Cossacks who are unleashed upon us…Now they try to mislead us and make us believe that our enemy is “the Germans” whom we have never seen… But will we Russian workers be so stupid as to take these lying phrases seriously? No! If we must sacrifice our lives, we will do it for our own cause. They put guns in our hands. Good. We will use these guns to fight for better living conditions for the Russian working class.” [178]

Revolutionary defeatism got a practical endorsement during Christmas 1914, when British, French and German soldiers fraternized at the front. The British and German troops even organized their own 48-hour truce! Lenin wrote that this proved workers could unite against their own bosses. The military high commands worried that it might spread rapidly ordered that fraternization was high treason punishable by death. Lenin wrote (in The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated) that if the opportunists had devoted their efforts to calling on workers to fraternize for peace instead of backing their bosses war efforts and accepting ministerial jobs, then the spontaneous fraternization of Christmas 1914 might spread on into the new year and beyond. The real issue came down to what cause should workers die for.

“There is only one practical issue – victory or defeat for one’s country – Kautsky, lackey of the opportunists, has written…Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slaveholders, or should we fall in the “attempts at fraternization” between slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” [179]

Kautsky and ‘ultra-imperialism’

Meanwhile, Kautsky was working overtime trying to invent new twists in Marxist theory that would justify workers not having to fight anybody in principle. His theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ was revamped to claim that imperialist war was old fashioned and that the class interests of the bosses were now so enmeshed in each other’s stock markets that fighting imperialist wars was bad for business. “Every far-sighted capitalist today [with the benefit of Kautsky’s lesson on where their class interests lay] must call on his fellows: capitalists of all countries unite!” [180] Kautsky is saying: imperialists wake up! Why are you fighting among yourselves when the real danger is posed by the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and by your own socialist movements? You are ruining yourselves unnecessarily. Stop the war in your own interests. Peace brings prosperity! This was the old opportunist line from the pre-war Congresses of appealing to the bosses’ self-interest but now revived to provide ‘official Marxist’ legitimacy to the opportunists.

Kautsky and Co got the savaging they deserved from the revolutionaries. In a new theoretical journal, Die International, launched on April 14 1915 to combat this falsification of Marxism and to advance the creation of a new revolutionary leadership, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the devastatingly brilliant ‘The Reconstruction of the International’:

“Kautsky, the representative of the so-called Marxist Centre – politically speaking, the theoretician of the ‘swamp’ – made a sincere contribution to the party’s present collapse. Many years ago, he degraded theory to the role of obliging hand-maiden to the official practice of the party establishment. Already he has thought up an opportune new theory to justify and whitewash the collapse”.[184] “…Official theory, whose organ is Die Neue Zeit, [The New Times!] misuses Marxism any way it pleases to serve the party officials’ current domestic requirements and to justify their day-to-day dealings…The world historic call of the Communist Manifesto has been substantially enriched and, as corrected by Kautsky, now reads: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite in peacetime and cut each other’s throats in wartime!” “According to historical materialism, as Marx laid it out, all of previously recorded history is the history of class struggle. According to Kautsky’s revision of materialism, that must be amended to read: ‘except in time of war’.” [187]

Luxemburg goes for Kautsky’s throat:

“A moments reflection shows that Kautsky’s theory of historical materialism…does not leave a single stone of Marxist theory standing. According to Marx neither the class struggle nor war fall from the sky, but rather arise out of deep-seated social and economic causes. Thus neither of the two can periodically disappear unless their causes also vanish into thin air.” “…Wars in the present historical period result from the competing interests of rival groups of capitalists and from capitalism’s need to expand. But these two driving forces do not operate only when the cannon’s roar, but also in peacetime, when they prepare and make inevitable the outbreak of new wars. War is indeed, as Kautsky is fond of quoting from Clausewitz, only ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ And it is precisely the imperialist stage of capitalist domination whose arms race has made peace illusory, by declaring what is in essence the dictatorship of militarism and permanent war.” [188]

On the dangers of ‘official Marxism’ Luxemburg says this:

“All attempts to make Marxism conform to the present transitory decrepitude of Socialist practice, to prostitute it to the level of a mercenary apologist for social imperialism, are in themselves more dangerous than all the blatant and shrill excesses of the nationalist confusion in the ranks of the party. Such attempts tend not only to conceal the real causes of the International’s profound failure, but also to discard the lessons from this experience necessary for its future construction.” [192]

Writing for the Russian Bolshevik journal Kommunist, in September 1915, Lenin also takes Kautsky apart in “The Collapse of the Second International”. First Lenin refutes Kautsky’s complaint that the revolutionary situation that was expected at the Basle Congress did not occur with the outbreak of war because governments got stronger and workers weaker. Lenin shows that the war did create a revolutionary situation which he famously defined in this article. A revolutionary situation exists ‘objectively’ when the ruling classes find it impossible to rule ‘in the old way’; when the ‘lower classes do not want to live in the old way’, and when workers are drawn into independent action. To which he adds the necessary ‘subjective’ changes to workers consciousness –the “ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government” [194]. Thus, the prediction of the pre-war Basle Manifesto is “fully confirmed” says Lenin:

“[even]…those who fear revolution – petty bourgeois Christian parsons, the General Staffs and millionaires’ newspapers – are compelled to admit that symptoms of a revolutionary situation exist in Europe…To deny this truth, directly or indirectly, or to ignore it, as Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co have done, means telling a big lie, deceiving the working class, and serving the bourgeoisie”. [196]

So rather than take advantage of a revolutionary situation to ‘hasten’ the downfall of capitalism as demanded in the Basle Resolution, Kautsky and Co take refuge in the ‘big lie’ that no such crisis exists. Hence Kautsky rejects the charge that the leadership of the SD betrayed the masses. He caricatures the left SD position as calling for a ‘revolution within 24 hours’ which was impossible. Lenin counters that revolutions are not ‘made’ but develop within objective conditions and the betrayal of the leadership was a massive setback to that development. Kautsky justifies his position by trying to make the crisis dissolve into thin air as a ‘mistaken’ policy option that can be turned into peace by appealing to ruling class interests. Thus, the conditions were not ripe for revolution because the ruling class had not come to an impasse where it could not ‘rule in the old way’ but could instead opt for peace rather than war.

Lenin responds:

“The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skillfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ advanced by Kautsky…This theory boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism so as to justify the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary i.e. proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era…[198] “…Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both of these facts (and factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed i.e. concerns of a magnitude permitting domination of an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over form peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence.” [199]

Both Luxemburg and Lenin proved that Kautsky’s ‘official Marxism’ rejected the laws of capitalist development and the operation of the market, leaving “no stone” of Marxist theory overturned. Rather imperialism by its nature was inevitably forced to war. That war created the objective factors necessary for a revolutionary situation but the old leadership had betrayed the Basle resolution and failed to lead a revolutionary opposition to the war. It needed to be replaced urgently by a new leadership that could exploit the revolutionary crisis and turn imperialist war into civil war. The time was overdue to regroup the left SD forces and begin the process of building a new Third International. It was necessary to unite the left forces and prepare for a anti-war conference. The question arises why did the ‘left’ leave the initiative to the ‘centre’ to convene the first anti-war conference at Zimmerwald in September 1915, one year after the war had begun. Why did it take the ‘left’ so long to re-organize?

Towards the Zimmerwald “Left”

The bourgeoisie understood that imperialist war created a revolutionary crisis and passed tough repressive measures against workers and the ‘left’ in general. The anti-war movement was driven underground and many of their leaders and cadres were imprisoned. To implement the Basle resolution and the call to turn imperialist war into civil war, the left needed to build a new international. Why didn’t the left initiate an antiwar conference?  Two pre-conferences were held during this period; an International conference of Women met in Bern, March 26-28, and an Internationalist Youth Conference during April 1915. But no call arose out of either of these for a full-blown anti-war conference. In May 1915, the Italians tried to get the ISB to hold an antiwar conference. This was rejected, so the Italians decided to convene a conference without the ISB. A Preliminary Conference met on July 11 in Bern. Invitations were sent to the official ISB national leaderships! Kautsky among others declined. Zinoviev reported on the Preliminary Conference. He was obviously surprised to find that the organizers had invited only representatives of the official ISB parties “Where are the genuine lefts of the International?”, he asked.

 

[3] The Zimmerwald Left and Lessons for Today

How and when did the split which formed the Zimmerwald Left in 1915 take place? Why was this the important step to building a new international? What are the lessons to be learned today as US imperialism steps up its war drive? With the end of the Soviet Bloc most of the Western left has reverted to a Menshevik position of putting faith in the completion of the bourgeois revolution. They have given up on any belief that the working class is the revolutionary class and substituted the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. Those who adapt to democratic imperialism, Stalinists, centrists, and social democrats avoid fighting their own ruling class! They turn their backs on revolutionary Marxism, Leninism, and Bolshevism. As the contradictions of imperialism intensify these Menshevik currents form a counter-revolutionary barrier to the leftward movement of workers and poor peasants. That is why we need a New Zimmerwald, a new Bolshevik left, and a new Communist International.

During the first year of the war the pressure from the left for an international conference to unite those prepared to break with the social chauvinists and pacifists was sabotaged by the right and centre. The preliminary conference in Bern on July 11 1915 was dominated by the right and centre and rejected Zinoviev’s motions for revolutionary mass actions against the war. When the Zimmerwald Conference was finally held, September 5-8, 8 delegates including the Polish, Russian delegates met beforehand and formed the ‘Zimmerwald left’. They were Lenin and Zinoviev (Bolsheviks), Berzin (Latvian social democrats), Radek (Polish-Lithuanian opposition), Borchardt (for Lichenstrahlen in Germany), Hoglund and Nerman (Swedish and Norwegian left), and Platten (Switzerland). Trotsky was among several others who attended this meeting but did not endorse the left’s position.

Liebknecht writing a letter from prison greets the delegates and calls for a “settling of accounts with the deserters and turncoats of the International”. He urges the delegates to fight an international class war and to break with false appeals to national and party unity. He concludes:

“The new international will arise on the ruins of the old. It can only arise on these ruins, on new and firmer foundations. Friends – socialists from all countries – you must lay the foundation stone today for the future structure. Pass irreconcilable judgement upon the false socialists…Long live the future peace among peoples! Long live internationalist, people-liberating, and revolutionary!”

The formation of the ‘Zimmerwald left’ was the decisive step in the break with the old international. Lenin and Radek had drafted resolutions to put to the conference. Radek’s was adopted but Lenin’s references to support for colonial wars and calling for ‘defeat of one’s own country’ were omitted. Yet Radek’s draft was still strong. The war is characterised as an imperialist war. The causes of war could only be overcome by socialist revolution in the leading countries. The majority of the socialist international had gone over to the social patriotism of their national bourgeoisies. The ‘centre’ current of pacifists such as Kautsky was more dangerous than the open patriots because it misled and confused the more advanced workers. The left must struggle against social patriotism with every method at its disposal – rejection of war credits, propaganda against the war, demonstrations, fraternalization in the trenches, strikes etc. Quoting Liebknecht’s letter, Radek concludes: “Civil war, not ‘civil peace’ is out slogan” (299).

The debates at Zimmerwald centred around the question of ‘civil peace’ versus ‘civil war’. Most delegates were for ‘peace’ because they said workers were demoralised, confused and needed further preparation before they could turn the war into a ‘civil war’. Those against ‘civil peace’ also included Trotsky who opposed to pacifism ‘class struggle and ‘social revolution’. Chernov the Russian socialist revolutionary said that the “struggle for peace exclusively” must be extended to the “struggle for social revolution”. Radek’s resolution that put the case for ‘civil war’ was voted down 19 to 12 and did not become part of the final manifesto. Trotsky and Roland-Holst, Chernov and Natanson voted with the Zimmerwald 8.

 Zimmerwald Manifesto

The Zimmerwald Manifesto addresses the Proletarians of Europe:

“one thing is certain: the war that has produced this chaos is the product of imperialism…economically backward or politically weak nations are thereby subjugated by the great powers, who, in this war, are seeking to remake the world map with blood and iron, in accord with their exploiting interests…In the course of the war, its driving forces are revealed in all their vileness…The capitalists of all countries who are coining the gold of war profits out of the blood shed by the people, assert that the war is for defence of the fatherland, for democracy and the liberation of oppressed nations…thus the war reveals the naked figure of modern capitalism which has become irreconcilable not only with the interests of the masses of workers, not only with the requirements of historical development, but also with the elementary conditions of human existence…this situation that faces us, threatening the entire future of Europe and humanity, cannot and must not be tolerated any longer without action. “…Proletarians! Since the outbreak of the war you have placed your energy, your courage, your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now you must stand up for your own cause, for the sacred aims of socialism, for the emancipation of the oppressed nations as well as of the enslaved classes, by means of irreconcilable class struggle”.

“Class struggle”? What does this mean? Socialists in the countries at war are told to take up “this task”. What is this? “peace among the people”. Compared with real task of turning the imperialist war into civil war this is a pious platitude. (320) Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Nerman, Hoglund and Winter of the Zimmerwald left produced a statement protesting the omission of any “characterisation of opportunism” as the main cause of the capitulation to war, and any clear presentation of “methods of struggle against the war”. But they agreed to vote for the Manifesto as a “call to struggle, and because we want to march forward in this struggle arm in arm with the other sections of the International”.

The Zimmerwald Left was aware of the need to use the left position to break with the right and centre to form a new international. Lenin and the others (excluding Trotsky) saw that a split was necessary. Radek called the betrayal of the opportunists a de facto split. The failure to prepare for a new international quickly was to set the scene for later defeats. This is most obvious in Lenin’s critique of the Spartacists for not taking a firm independent line against the centrists in Germany.

The main lesson from Zimmerwald was that the left needed to strike out on an independent course (collaborating where possible at Zimmerwald etc) to win over the most advanced workers, with both a critique of opportunism and the revolutionary mobilisation against the ruling class. Radek put this forcefully in his report on the conference:

“It may be a long-time before the masses, bled white by the war recover and renew the struggle. We can shorten this time, however by explaining to the most conscious workers why the International collapsed, how they have to struggle, for what goals they must appeal to other workers, and how they must organise the struggle under conditions of military rule. The more difficult the situation the clearer must be the politics of socialism. It is never too early to tell the workers their true situation”. (339)

Lenin’s critique of Luxemburg and Trotsky

Lenin critiqued Luxemburg and the German Spartacists for following the Zimmerwald Manifesto in toning down their critique of opportunism and failing to break from the centrists and create an independent party. He was responding to Luxemburg’s famous ‘Junius Pamphlet’.

“The chief defect in Junius pamphlet…is its silence about the connection between social chauvinism …and opportunism. This is wrong from the standpoint of theory, for it is impossible to account for the ‘betrayal’ [of the 2nd international without linking it up with opportunism as a trend with a long history behind it, the history of the whole Second International. ..It is also a mistake from the practical political standpoint, for it is impossible either to understand the ‘crisis of social democracy’ or overcome it, without clarifying the meaning and the role of two trends, the openly opportunist trend…and the tacitly opportunist trend…A very great defect in revolutionary Marxism in Germany as a whole is its lack of a compact illegal organisation that would systematically pursue its own line and educate the masses in the spirit of the new tasks; such an organisation would have to take a definite stand on opportunism and Kautskyism.” (436).

Lenin also criticises Luxemburg for not understanding that a civil war against the bourgeoisie was necessary.

“In saying that the class struggle is the best means of defence against invasion, Junius applies Marxist dialectics only half way…Marxist dialectics call for a concrete analysis of each specific historical situation…Class struggle…is too general and therefore inadequate in the present specific case. Civil war against the bourgeoisie is also a form of class struggle, and only this form of class struggle would have saved Europe…from invasion” (443)

Lenin explains these defects in Luxemburg’s position materially as due to the ‘environment’ of German social democracy and the fear of the leftists to follow “their revolutionary slogans to their logical conclusions”. As a result, Luxemburg pulls back to “something like a Menshevik ‘theory of stages’ of first defending a republic and then to the next stage – socialist revolution”. “But this shortcoming is not Junius’ personal failing, but the result of the weakness of all the German leftists, who have become entangled in the vile net of Kautskyite hypocrisy, pedantry and “friendliness” for the opportunists.”

Trotsky’s role in all this was confusionist. He had illusions in winning of the ‘centre’. He talked of Kautsky moving left. He confused the necessary subjective task of winning the most advanced workers (Radek’s point) with the objective backward consciousness of workers. This misled him into trying to influence the party leaders of the centre like Kautsky who had “authority” with the masses. Hence his mechanical schematic view that workers had to stop fighting themselves before they would fight their own bourgeoisies. This was true but undialectical. Trotsky was proved wrong. When the German soldiers and sailors mutinied in 1918 they fulfilled the first part of Trotsky’s schema. But instead of turning their guns against the bourgeoisie, they were talked into exchanging their guns for votes in a German Republic. In Russia, the first revolution in February against the Tsar did not succumb to the bourgeoisie. The armed workers retained their guns, defeated the counter-revolution and went on to make the socialist revolution.

What was the lesson from Zimmerwald? Lenin expressed it very well. Imperialist wars can be won by workers only by means of a socialist revolution. Wars open up revolutionary crises and the revolutionary leadership must clearly take the lead from the right and centre of the party. The right goes further to the right and drags the centre with it. Failure to break from the centre was the fate of the German Spartacists. The lack of as Bolshevik party in Germany was the vital factor that allowed the counter-revolution to succeed. The defeat of the German revolution was ultimately to bring the defeat of the Russian revolution in 1991.

 We need a new Bolshevik International

Menshevism allows the possibility of a ‘peaceful’ evolutionary transition to socialism and so sees bourgeois democracy as a shell for workers democracy. But In times of war capitalism doesn’t want workers votes it want their blood. Revolutionaries have to counter that by building independent workers organs that do not rely on bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie counterposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That’s why we were against bourgeois democracy in the former Degenerate Workers States (DWS). As Trotsky said bourgeois democracy could only be counter-revolutionary in a DWS.

Today the remains of the 2nd International are even more openly social imperialist. Socialism has virtually disappeared inside imperialism. The new imperialism promotes western values of democracy and human rights as the means of ‘civilising’ the colonial and semi-colonial world. The remains of the 3rd international have become 2nd internationalists in the imperialist world, In the ‘3rd world’ they are for the patriotic popular front to complete the bourgeois revolution in the former workers states and in the semi-colonies. This means counterposing the international civil society of Porto Alegre to the rogue institutions of globalisation such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. Both of these currents endorse the right of imperialism to intervene in oppressed states to remove local dictators and facilitate ‘democratic’ regimes. They are against the armed struggle of colonial and semi-colonial peoples to do it themselves.

The degenerate Trotskyists are joining forces with these betrayers to revise the permanent revolution and promote the democratic stage as a necessary preparation for the socialist stage. But this is a grotesque deformation of the theory of permanent revolution that says that the democratic stage can be completed only by socialism. That is, the struggle right now is for socialism during which the incomplete democratic tasks will be completed.

Zimmerwald teaches us the importance of the fundamental distinction between the methods of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks explained by Lenin in What is to be Done, and then proven decisively i the massive betrayal in imperialist war. The Mensheviks wanted peace first, that is an end to military imperialism by peaceful imperialism. This was so because it was the institutions of bourgeois democracy, parliament, pressured by the masses that would enact peace. The Bolsheviks, dominating the Zimmerwald Left, saw the need to activate the working masses directly to stop the war by turning the imperialist war into a ‘civil war’.

Thus, the Bolsheviks called for the struggle for socialism as the only way to stop the imperialist war. They knew that this struggle would transform workers from a backward, defensive consciousness, in awe of the bosses’ parliament, into a revolutionary force capable of socialist revolution. Today, under conditions of growing crisis and drive to imperialist war on the part of US imperialism, revolutionaries have this same task. We need a New Zimmerwald. We have to reject the Menshevik program of counterposing bourgeois democracy to US imperialism in the Porto Alegre, anti-globalising, sense. We have to break from the politics of the popular front and internationally from the Menshevik international. We have to rebuild a new Bolshevik International now!

 

Originally published in in Class Struggle, journal of the Communist Workers Group of New Zealand/Aotearoa, 2002; and reprinted in Communist Worker, June 2008. https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/for-a-new-zimmerwald/

Part two https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/for-a-new-zimmerwald-part-2/

Part Three https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/the-zimmerwald-left-and-the-lessons-for-today/

All page references are to Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years. Edited by John Riddell. Monad Press, New York, 1984. http://www.pathfinderpress.com/s.nl/it.A/id.862/.f  Not online.

Lenin’s “Socialism and War” pamphlet http://www.marxists.de/war/lenin-war/index.htm

The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/mar/29c.htm

The Collapse of the Second International https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/csi/index.htm

 

 

 

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Written by raved

October 3, 2018 at 10:34 am