Editors’ note: The collapse of the Second International (1889-1916) was a devastating blow to Marxist revolutionaries, including Lenin himself. In the war hysteria of July and August 1914 the top leaders of most working-class parties succumbed to opportunism. They threw decades of solemn antiwar resolutions into the garbage bin, and authorized the march to war.
Opportunism, and the Collapse of the Second International, 1915
It is instructive to compare the attitudes of the various classes and parties towards the collapse of the International, which has been revealed by the 1914-15 war. On one hand, the bourgeoisie extols to the sky those socialists who have expressed themselves in favour of “defending the fatherland”, i.e., in favour of the war and of aiding the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie’s more outspoken or less diplomatic representatives are expressing malicious joy over the collapse of the International, the collapse of the “illusions” of socialism.
Among socialists who are “defending the fatherland” there are also two shades: the “extremists” like the Germans W. Kolb and W. Heine, who admit the collapse of the International, for which they blame the “revolutionary illusions”; these are out to restore a still more opportunist International. In practice, however they agree with the “moderates”, the cautious socialist “defenders of the fatherland”, such as Kautsky, Renaudel, and Vandervelde, who stubbornly deny that the International has collapsed, consider it merely suspended temporarily, and defend the Second International’s viability and right to exist. Revolutionary Social-Democrats in the various countries recognise the collapse of the Second International and the need to create a Third International.
To decide who is right, let us examine an historic document which bears upon the present war, and carries the unanimous and official signatures of all socialist parties in the world. That document is the Basle Manifesto of 1912. Noteworthy enough, no socialist would, in theory, dare deny the need for a concretely historical analysis of every war. Today, however, none but the “Left” Social-Democrats, who are but few in number, would be so bold as to publicly and definitely repudiate the Basle Manifesto, or declare it erroneous, or analyse it carefully, comparing its decisions with the conduct of the socialists after the outbreak of the war.
Why is that so? It is because the Basle Manifesto ruthlessly exposes the wrong reasoning and conduct of the majority of official socialists. There is not a single word in this Manifesto on either the “defence of the fatherland” or the difference between a war of aggression and a war of defence! Not a syllable on a subject the official S.D. leaders both in Germany and in the Quadruple Entente have been talking and vociferating about most. In a perfectly clear, precise, and definite manner, the Basle Manifesto analyses the concrete clashes of interests which led towards war in 1912 and brought about war in 1914.
The Manifesto says that these are clashes arising on the basis of “capitalist imperialism”, clashes between Austria and Russia for domination over the Balkans, clashes between Britain, France, and Germany over their “policies of conquest in Asia Minor” (the policies of all of them!), clashes between Austria and Italy over their attempt to “draw Albania into their sphere of influence”, subject her to their “rule”, and clashes between Britain and Germany because of their mutual “antagonism”, and further, because of “tsarism’s attempts to grab Armenia, Constantinople, etc.”
It will be seen that this applies in full to the present war. The undisguised predatory, imperialist and reactionary character of this war, which is being waged for the enslavement of nations, is most clearly recognised in the Manifesto, which draws the necessary conclusion that war “cannot be justified on the slightest pretext of being in the least in the interests of the people”, that war is prepared “for the sake of the profits of capitalists and ambitions of dynasties”, and that on the part of the workers it would be “a crime to fire at one another”.
These propositions contain the fundamentals for an understanding of the radical distinction between two great historical periods. One was the period between 1789 and 1871, when, in most cases, wars in Europe were indubitably connected with the most important “interests of the people”, namely, a powerful bourgeois-progressive movement for national liberation which involved millions of people, with the destruction of feudalism, absolutism, and foreign oppression. It was on this basis alone that there arose the concept of “defence of the fatherland”, defence of a bourgeois nation that is liberating itself from medievalism. Only in this sense did socialists recognise “defence of the fatherland”. Even today it must be recognised in this sense ; for instance, the defence of Persia or China against Russia or Britain, of Turkey against Germany or Russia, of Albania against Austria and Italy, etc.
The 1914-15 war, as clearly expressed in the Basle Manifesto, pertains to an entirely different historical period and is of an entirely different character. This is a war among predators for division of the loot, for the enslavement of other countries. Victory for Russia, Britain, and France means the strangulation of Armenia, Asia Minor, etc.—this is stated in the Basle Manifesto. Germany’s victory means the strangulation of Asia Minor, Serbia, Albania, etc. This is stated in the selfsame Manifesto, and has been recognised by all socialists! All phrases about a war of defence or about the defence of the fatherland by the Great Powers (i.e., the great predators), who are fighting for world domination, markets and “spheres of influence”, and the enslavement of nations, are false, meaningless and hypocritical! It is not surprising that “socialists” who are in favour of defending the fatherland are afraid to recall or to exactly quote the Basle Manifesto, for it exposes their hypocrisy. The Basle Manifesto proves that socialists who stand for the “defence of the fatherland” in the 1914-15 war are socialists only in word and chauvinists in deed. They are social-chauvinists.
Recognition of this war as connected with national liberation leads to one line of socialist tactics; recognition of a war as imperialist, predatory and aggressive, leads to another line. The latter has been clearly defined in the Basle Manifesto. The war, it says, will evoke an “economic and political crisis”, which, it continues, must be “utilised” to “hasten the collapse of the rule of capital”. These words recognise that social revolution is ripe, that it is possible, that it is approaching in connection with the war. The “ruling classes” are afraid of a “proletarian revolution”, says the Manifesto, quoting the example of the Paris Commune and of 1905, i.e., the examples of revolutions, strikes, and civil war. It is a lie for anybody to say that the socialists “have not discussed”, or “have not decided” the question of their attitude towards the war. The Basle Manifesto has decided this question; it has mapped out the line of tactics—that of proletarian revolutionary action and civil war.
It would be erroneous to think that the Basle Manifesto is a piece of empty declamation, a bureaucratic phrase, a none-too-serious threat. Those whom the Manifesto exposes are prepared to say such things. But that is not the truth! The Basle Manifesto sums up the vast amount of propaganda and agitation material of the entire epoch of the Second International, namely, the period between 1889 and 1914. This Manifesto summarises, without any exaggeration, millions upon millions of leaflets, press articles, books, and speeches by socialists of all lands. To declare this Manifesto erroneous means declaring the entire Second International erroneous, the work done in decades and decades by all Social-Democratic parties.
To brush aside the Basle Manifesto means brushing aside the entire history of socialism. The Basle Manifesto says nothing unusual or out of the ordinary. It provides only and exclusively that which enabled the socialists to lead the masses—recognition of “peaceful” work as preparation for a proletarian revolution. The Basle Manifesto repeated what Guesde said at the 1899 Congress, where he ridiculed socialists’ ministerialism manifesting itself in the event of a war for markets, “brigandages capitalistes” (En garde! pp. 175-76), or what Kautsky said in 1909, in his pamphlet Der Weg zur Macht, in which he spoke of the end of the “peaceful epoch” and the advent of an epoch of wars, revolutions, and the proletariat’s struggle for power.
The Basle Manifesto incontestably proves the complete betrayal of socialism by those socialists who voted for war credits; joined governments, and recognised the defence of the fatherland in 1914-15. This betrayal is undeniahle. It will be denied by hypocrites alone. The only question is: how is it to be explained.
It would be unscientific, absurd and ridiculous to reduce the question to personalities, to refer to Kautsky, Guesde, Plekhanov (and say: “even” such persons!). That would be a wretched subterfuge. Any serious explanation calls, in the first place, for an economic analysis of the significance of present-day politics, then for an analysis of their fundamental ideas, and, finally, for a study of the historic trends within socialism.
What is the economic implication of “defence of the fatherland” in the 1914–15 war? The answer to this question has been given in the Basle Manifesto. The war is being fought by all the Great Powers for the purpose of plunder, carving up the world, acquiring markets, and enslaving nations. To the bourgeoisie it brings higher profits; to a thin crust of the labour bureaucracy and aristocracy, and also to the petty bourgeoisie (the intelligentsia, etc.) which “travels” with the working-class movement, it promises morsels of those profits.
The economic basis of “social-chauvinism” (this term being more precise than the term social-patriotism, as the latter embellishes the evil) and of opportunism is the same, namely, an alliance between an insignificant section at the “top” of the labour movement, and its “own” national bourgeoisie, directed against the masses of the proletariat, an alliance between the servants of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, directed against the class that is exploited by the bourgeoisie. Social-chauvinism is a consummated opportunism.
Social-chauvinism and opportunism are the same in their political essence; class collaboration, repudiation of the proletarian dictatorship, rejection of revolutionary action, obeisance to bourgeois legality, non-confidence in the proletariat, and confidence in the bourgeoisie. The political ideas are identical, and so is the political content of their tactics. Social-chauvinism is the direct continuation and consummation of Millerandism, Bernsteinism, and British liberal-labour policies, their sum, their total, their highest achievement.
Throughout the entire period between 1889 and 1914, two lines in socialism—the opportunist and the revolutionary—are to be seen. Today there are also two lines in socialism. Let us not follow the method of referring to persons, which is practised by the bourgeois and opportunist liars, and let us take the trends to be seen in a number of countries. Let us take ten European countries: Germany, Britain, Russia, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Belgium and France. In the first eight countries, the division into the opportunist and revolutionary trends coincides with the division into social-chauvinists and revolutionary internationalists.
The main nuclei of social-chauvinism in the social and political sense are: Sozialistische Monatshefte and Co. in Germany; the Fabians and the Labour Party in Britain (the Independent Labour Party entered in a bloc with both, the influence of social-chauvinism in the latter being considerably stronger than in the British Socialist Party, in which about three-sevenths are internationalists, namely, 66 to 84); Nasha Zarya and the Organising Committee (as well as Nashe Dyelo) in Russia; Bissolati’s party in Italy; Troelstra’s party in Holland; Branting and Co. in Sweden; the “Shiroki” in Bulgaria; Greulich and “his” people in Switzerland.
It is from revolutionary Social-Democrats in all these countries that a more or less sharp protest has emanated against social-chauvinism. Two countries out of the ten are the exception, but even there internationalists are weak, but not absent; the facts are rather unknown (Vaillant has admitted having received letters from internationalists, which he did not publish) than non-existent…
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