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?
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". (LSRI: 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 thought 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.
"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." (LSRI: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 reestablish 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.
Also in the middle 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 with some 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, Vendervelde, 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 tries 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, Hasse, 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's 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 buildup 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 the 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 of 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 fractions, Left, Right, and Centre.All quotes from Lenin's Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Ed John Riddell, Monad Press, 1984
Next Issue: The First Zimmerwald
From Class Struggle 44m April/May 2002