International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

Communism and War
Anti-militarism in the Second International

(Comunismo no.16, settembre-dicembre 1984)

«It would be a falsification of history to say the 1st and 2nd Internationals didn’t consider the question of war or try to resolve it in the interest of the working class. We can even say the matter was on the 1st international’s agenda from the very outset (war in 1859 of France and Piedmont against Austria; in 1864: Prussia and Austria against Denmark; in 1866: Prussia and Italy against Austria and southern Germany; 1870: France against Germany; not to mention the war of secession in 1861‑65 in the United States and the insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 against annexation by Austria – which greatly aroused the passions of the internationalists of that time – etc.)» (“La prima e la seconda Internazionale di fronte al problema della Guerra”, Bilan, no. 21, July‑August, 1935).

Marx and Engels fought against the democratic illusions of the pacifists and against phony bourgeois philanthropism, which wanted harmony between the classes to abolish war, and they demonstrated the historical requirement for the use of revolutionary violence to transform society. This requirement, unavoidable for the proletarian revolution, was spelled out by Marx in the address of the central Committee of the Communist League in March 1850, which at the same time established the proletarian tactic of the double revolution.

«To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party (the rival bourgeois democratic party), whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old‑style citizens’ militia directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the State authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers (territorial political organizations, out and out soviets). Where the workers are employed by the State, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary». Marx here enunciates the requirement for a red guard and a red army for the revolutionary taking of power.

This teaching emerged from the bloody class struggle of June 1848 in France, where the Parisian proletariat tried for the first time to “storm heaven”. The response of the bourgeoise was immediate: while it had proven to be cowardly when fighting the forces of feudal reaction, they were decisive and ferocious when fighting the proletariat.

At the 3rd Congress of the International, held in Brussels in 1863, a motion was passed on the stance to take if a conflict broke out between the great European powers, wherein workers were asked to prevent war between the peoples of different nations and a general strike was urged in case of war.

Marx and Engels, even if they were forced to include in the inaugural address and provisional rules, which ran the risk of being edited by Mazzini, talk about morality, civilization and law, would conduct a fierce struggle against all the pacifist currents of petty bourgeois inspiration that preached peace and disarmament, instead affirming that wars were inevitable under a bourgeois regime since a direct consequence of the system itself.

At the Lausanne Congress of 1867, the left delegates linked to Marx underlined that «it was not sufficient to suppress the permanent army and replace it with the popular militia in order to put an end to war», but necessitated a transformation of the entire existing social order. The call for a popular militia is characteristic of revolutionary bourgeois democracy at the time of the great French Revolution. «What this idea consisted of was a reconciliation of all of the classes within bourgeois society through the formation of one national front, which claimed to be above classes».

At the time of the formation of the First International the non‑Marxist currents labored under the illusion that the universal panacea to prevent wars was the suppression of the permanent armies, and their replacement with the popular militia. These democratic illusions were also sustained by the right in the Second International, and particularly by Jaurès.

From the very beginning the historic lesson that Marxist doctrine drew, indelibly set in stone by Lenin and confirmed in the October Revolution, was instead that before realizing a socialist transformation there needs to be a proletarian dictatorship.

The fundamental characteristic of the 2nd International is that it was inspired by revolutionary Marxist principles, but in the tactical field it made still possible, for the individual national federated sections and the currents that formed within them, to express different tactical programs, which the congresses would define from time to time according to the balance of forces between the reformist and the revolutionary Marxist fractions.

Authentic Marxists, first Engels, and then Lenin along with the entire international left, fought against all the various revisionisms and opportunisms and tried to impose a revolutionary program.

The old programme of social democracy, understood as its view of party action, which in a historical sense was set within an allegedly “peaceful’ phase of capitalist development, included among the natural tasks of social democracy that of calling for “democratic reforms” as a way of advancing the proletarian cause. The Marxists in the 2nd International also recognized that in some of the political and social demands there were elements which were historically progressive, namely those with a tendency to complete the bourgeois revolutions and which were therefore indispensable to the proletarian revolutionary process.

But for the Lefts this path would never be able to avoid the violent conquest of political power. In this historical period the right wings and center deluded themselves that along with the “maximum program” a struggle on class terrain against militarism could be included in the “minimum program”, with the intention of democratizing militarism and the State apparatus in general in order to promote conditions that favored the revolutionary process.

For the reformist wing, the struggle conducted in this way was intended to be a gradual and progressive evolution which, joined with the one in Parliament, would open the way to a gradual and peaceful conquest of power. The anti‑militarist struggle of the reformists rejected proletarian participation in wars, but without considering the concrete possibility of wars and their consequences (pacifist policy).

This contrast between the programs would endure throughout the life of the 2nd International, up to when, after the betrayal of 1914, the imperialist war demonstrated the impossibility of combining revolutionary preparation with the struggle for the democratization of militarism and of the bourgeois State institutions, and that it was no longer possible to tolerate the presence within the workers’ parties of the opportunist reformist current.

The examination of the resolutions on anti‑militarism and the war brings us to the “knotty issue” that would be a continuous feature of the International’s life from 1889 to 1914: the struggle between the sound revolutionary forces on the left and the two currents, anarchist and reformist, which only clearly revealed themselves (even if the international left already had no doubt what their function was ) at the outbreak of the First World War, when anarchism and reformism would walk arm in arm under their country’s banners to defend their own “native lands”, discoursing on the nature of wars so they could justify their debacle in the name of Marxism.

In actual fact the entire history of the 2nd International is extremely complex because within it a whole series of historic transitions took place, both for capitalism, which experienced an unprecedented development of productive forces (birth of imperialism), and for the socialist movement, which expanded beyond Europe’s borders and saw within it the birth and consolidation of the socialist parties on a national scale and experienced the opportunist phenomenon (1st “Bernsteinian” opportunist wave, 1886/1903; 2nd opportunist wave, 4th August 1914, social chauvinism).

Engels directed the International’s formative process and was opposed to any reconstitution that failed to take into account the historical balance sheet drawn from the experience of the 1st International, where Marx had to fight, using both doctrinal critique and engaging in a difficult organizational struggle, against Bakunin, and his tenacious supporters in France, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.

The German socialists feared that a new International that arose as a Belgian or French initiative would be influenced by the POSF (French Socialist Labor Party) or “Possibilist” party. For Engels these were the most dangerous adversaries, being nothing other than (as he defined them) «Bakunin’s pupils with a different banner but with all of the old arsenal and the old tactics».

In 1889 two separate congresses were held, one by the “Possibilists” and the English trade unions, and the other by the POF (French Labor Party) or “Collectivists”, and German Social Democracy. Only in December 1890 was a unification achieved in which the conditions formulated by Engels prevailed and at the Brussels Congress of 1891 the Marxists won on all the questions of principle and tactics and only then was it possible to found an new international.

Engels actively participated in the preparation for the first three congresses and gave the closing speech at Zurich in 1893.

Concerning this we will cite from the ample correspondence a few excerpts, which show us how the hard theoretical battle preceding the birth of the 2nd International concluded. From a letter from Engels to Sorge of the 2nd September, 1891, commenting on the Brussels Congress:

«The Marxists have won all along the line, both as regards principles and tactics»

From a letter to Paul Lafargue on the 9th September, 1891:

«However it may be I am satisfied with the congress. Primarily because it represented the definitive collapse of the Brousse- Hyndman opposition (...) Then the expulsion of the anarchists. Precisely there where the old International ceased, the new one began. This, after 19 years, is the confirmation, pure and simple, of the Hague resolutions».

From a letter to Sorge, 14th September, 1891:

«And, best of all, the anarchists have been shown the door, just as they were at the Hague Congress. The new, incomparably larger and avowedly Marxist International is beginning again at the precise spot where its predecessor left off».
The Congresses - Resolutions on anti‑militarism and war

While going through all nine of the 2nd International’s congresses some demands, with a few differences whose significance we will examine later on, are always there: suppression of the standing armies, creation of popular militias, disarmament, international arbitration.

At the Paris Congress in 1889 (which then became the founding congress of the International) 400 delegates from 22 countries in Europe and America took part. On the militarism question there was a call for the abolition of the standing armies and the creation of the popular militia.

At the next congress in Brussels in 1891 the work centered on the question of militarism. The congress rejected the proposal, put forward by the Dutch anarchist Nieuwenhuis, of adopting the general strike as a means of opposing the war and supported instead the W.Liebknecht-Vaillant resolution, which focused on the economic matrix of militarism and invited the workers to protest against foolish war ambitions and the alliances which favored them.

At the next congress in Zurich in 1893 the resolution on militarism was based on the Brussels one but went further, affirming the need for the socialist deputies in parliament to reject all war credits and to fight for disarmament and abolition of the standing armies.

At the London congress of 1896 the resolutions of the previous congresses were reprised and there appeared the call for a tribunal of international arbitration which would make decisions about existing conflicts between nations.

At the Paris congress of 1900 the resolution on anti‑militarism and war proposed educating youth against militarism, an obligation for parliamentarians to vote against military and colonial credits and it backed the need for a common anti‑militarist agitation across all countries.

These demands were taken up again at successive congresses, although from the 1900 Paris congress onwards the revolutionary left (Lenin-Luxemburg) led increasingly heated and clear‑cut actions to get resolutions approved which clarified that war is a phenomenon that is inextricably linked to capitalism.

More precise theoretical formulations were put forward at Stuttgart in 1907 and at Basle 1912, precisely owing to the fact that the left had managed to silence the opportunist tendencies in those congresses.

But going back to the demands for a popular militia, disarmament and international arbitration, we can see how they find their justification in the illusions of the historical period of the “peaceful” development of capitalism but that they appear completely outdated in the imperialist phase; in fact, their demagogic defense today serves only to provide further opportunist mystification.

Regarding this let us quote from an article by Trotski (”Our Policy in Creating the Army” – theses adopted by the VIII congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1919:

«The old Social-Democratic program called for the establishment of a militia of the whole people, made up of all citizens capable of bearing arms, whose military training would be carried on, so far as possible, outside barracks. This programmatic demand, which in the epoch of the Second International was directed against the imperialist standing armies with their barracks training, long terms of service and officer castes, possessed the same historical significance as other democratic demands – universal and equal suffrage, a single-chamber system, and so on.
     «Under conditions of “peaceful” capitalist development and the necessity, for the time being, to adapt the class struggle of the proletariat to the context of bourgeois legality, one of the tasks of the Social-Democrats was, naturally, to demand the most democratic forms of organization for the capitalist State and the capitalist army. The struggle waged on this basis undoubtedly had its educational value, but, as was shown by the great experience of the last war, the struggle to democratize bourgeois militarism yielded even smaller results than the struggle to democratize the bourgeois parliamentary system. For, in the sphere of militarism, the bourgeoisie can, if it is not to abdicate, allow only such “democratism” as does not affect its class rule: that is, illusory, pretended democratism. When what is at issue is the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie, in the international sphere as in internal relations, bourgeois militarism in Germany, France, Switzerland, Britain and America, regardless of all the differences in forms of the State and structures of the army, has displayed identical features of ruthless class brutality.
«When the class struggle has been transformed into open civil war, tearing away the veil of bourgeois law and bourgeois- democratic institutions, the slogan of a “people’s militia” loses all its meaning, in exactly the same way as the slogan of democratic parliamentarism, and so becomes a weapon for reaction».

At the Stuttgart Congress in 1907, 4 motions were presented: 3 representing the 3 tendencies in the French Socialist Party and one by the German Social Democrats.

The first French tendency, of anarchist inspiration, was represented by Hervè and it was opposed to patriotism, and wanted the socialist response to war to be insurrection and a general strike.

The second tendency was represented by Guesde who considered anti‑militarist propaganda among the working class as an obstacle in the way of building socialism, and consequently condemned the methods of anti‑militarism (desertion, military strike, insurrection).

The third tendency, of Vaillant-Jaures, attacked the other two describing Hervè’s position as extremism in words and Guesde’s as passive possibilism and it set out by declaring that militarism and imperialism were in effect the organized instruments of capitalism and that in the event of war the nation that was attacked and its working class had an absolute duty to defend its own autonomy and independence (premise this to all of the disquisitions in 1914 on defensive and offensive wars, and then of the watchword “defense of the country”).

Finally, Bebel’s resolution on behalf of the Germans commenced with the statement that wars between capitalist States were in general the consequence of rivalries on the world market; that wars were the essence of capitalism, and that the working class was the natural enemy of war. In the case of war, the workers and their representatives in parliament had to do everything in their power to stop the conflict; but if war should break out, despite every effort, it needed to work to bring about its rapid conclusion.

All of the resolutions, apart from Hervè’s, called for the creation of the civil militia.

At the end of the discussion Lenin, Luxemburg and Martov, in the name of the Russian Social Democrats, presented some amendments to Bebel’s resolution. The most important aims of these amendments were: 1) to integrate Bebel’s theses which indicated that the origin of wars lay in the economic rivalries of capitalism, adding a reference to the militarist arms race; 2) to highlight the necessity of educating youth in the ideas of socialism and fraternity among peoples, and of giving them a class consciousness; 3) to rewrite the final paragraph of the resolution in such a way as to offer much clearer guidance in the following terms:

«In the case of a threat of an outbreak of war, it is the duty of the working classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries taking part, fortified by the unifying activity of the International Bureau, to do everything to prevent the outbreak of war by whatever means seem to them most effective, which naturally differ with the intensification of the class war and of the general political situation.
«Should war break out in spite of all this, it is their duty to intercede for its speedy end, and to strive with all their power to make use of the violent economic and political crisis brought about by the war to rouse the people, and thereby to hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule».

Regarding an evaluation of the Stuttgart motion, we will quote Lenin:

«Bebel’s resolution (moved by the Germans and coinciding in all essentials with Guesde’s resolution) had one shortcoming – it failed to indicate the active tasks of the proletariat. This made it possible to read Bebel’s orthodox propositions through opportunist spectacles, and Vollmar was quick to turn this possibility into a reality. That is why Rosa Luxemburg and the Russian Social-Democratic delegates moved their amendments to Bebel’s resolution» (Lenin, “The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart”).

In Copenhagen in 1910, there was a heated debate on a general strike in the event of war, but in the final resolution, all reference to the strike was excluded and the task of fighting the war was left almost entirely to the socialist parliamentary groups in the various countries, who were urged to vote against any military allocation, for land and naval forces, to demand compulsory arbitration for all international disputes, to fight for general disarmament and, as a preliminary step, for conventions limiting naval armaments and abolishing the right to commandeer merchant ships, for the abolition of secret diplomacy and the publication of all international treaties, and finally for the independence of all peoples.

Copenhagen therefore represents a backwards step compared with Stuttgart above all as regards the gravity of the international situation; in fact, a series of conflicts was looming on the horizon which would lead inexorably to war.

The Basle congress in 1912 was held above all in order to present a compact socialist front against war. The occasion was the effective outbreak of a conflict in the Balkans, where Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro had formed a coalition to destroy and divide up the last remnants of the Turkish empire in Europe.

When the congress took place, the outcome of the war was already more or less certain; the Turkish forces had been routed and the process of dividing up the provinces of European Turkey among the victors had already begun. The war had been triggered without the direct intervention of any of the great European powers, but certainly none of them would passively allow the definitive organization of things in the Balkan region to proceed unchallenged.

The Basle resolution, which represented the sum of the innumerable agitational and propaganda publications of all the countries opposed to the war, represented the most precise statement given by the International on the war.

The Basle manifesto affirmed that the war would create a grave political and economic crisis, that the workers would consider their participation in the war as a crime and would equally consider a crime «to fire at each other for the profits of the capitalists, the ambitions of dynasties, or the greater glory of secret diplomatic treaties». Integrally utilising Lenin’s motion at Stuttgart it confirms that «In case war should break out anyway it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule». And it further admonishes «Let the governments remember that with the present condition of Europe and the mood of the working class, they cannot unleash a war without danger to themselves» and it reminds them that war provoked the revolutionary outbreak of the Commune, the revolution of 1905 in Russia, etc.

The Basle Manifesto says not a single word about defense of the country, nor about the distinction between a defensive and offensive war; it gives a clear idea about all of the conflicts of interest which in 1912 were driving towards the future war of 1914: the conflicts between Austrian and Russia to predominate in the Balkans, between England, France and Germany due to their (common) policy of conquest in Asia Minor; between Austria and Italy due to both of them wanting to include Albania in their respective spheres of influence and so on.

The manifesto stated clearly that the next war would be a war between predators for the division of booty, for the enslavement of other countries.

The Colonial question or the progress of opportunism within the International

Linked strictly to the question of anti‑militarism is the colonial question, because in the so‑called “peaceful” period of capitalism, or rather of “armed peace” among the great powers, often the army was used in bloody wars against colored people.

Paris 1900. The resolution presented by the Dutchman Van Kol committed the International not only to struggle by every means against the policy of colonial expansionism being pursued by the capitalist powers, but to promote, as far as possible, the formation of socialist parties in the colonial countries. This resolution was unanimously approved. English delegates, both from the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party, seized the opportunity to denounce the war conducted by British imperialism in South Africa.

A few years later colonialism would find defenders among the ranks of German Social Democracy, the Belgians would be sharply divided on the question of whether to accept responsibility for the free State of Congo, and among the Danish socialists there would be disagreements regarding the East Indies. These differences would emerge more clearly over the ensuing years as opportunist tendencies became more entrenched in each country, but in 1900 they had not yet been pushed to the fore by the sharpening of imperialist rivalries among the great powers. And even opportunists could still unite in a passionate denunciation of colonialism.

Amsterdam 1904. Once again, Van Kol presented a general resolution which committed the congress to firmly oppose all imperialistic measures and all appropriations which favored them. The resolution continued with a condemnation of any concession or monopoly in the colonial zones, denouncing the State of oppression in which the subject peoples were held, and calling for measures to improve their condition by means of public works, sanitation services and schools free from any missionary influence. It further proclaimed that there would be conceded «every freedom and as much autonomy as was compatible with the state of development of the people concerned, bearing in mind that the final objective should be their complete emancipation». Here we can already detect the seeds of chauvinism. The resolution would conclude with a call for parliamentary control over the exploitation of the colonial territories.

Stuttgart. We are in 1907, the international horizon is beginning to darken, war approaches and opportunism as a consequence is forced to take increasingly overt positions; in fact in Stuttgart the commission was composed in such a manner that the opportunists, headed by Van Kol as usual, had the upper hand. In the draft resolution was inserted the monstrous phrase «the Congress does not condemn all colonial policy on principle, for under socialism colonial policy could play a civilizing role». The minority in the commission (The German Ledebour, the Polish social-democrats, the Russians) vigorously protested against such an idea being admitted; the opportunists, rallied behind Van Kol, Bernstein and David and speaking in the name of the majority of the German delegation, favored the recognition of the “socialist colonial policy” and fulminated against the revolutionaries for their barren, negative attitude, their failure to appreciate the importance of reforms, etc.

David went even further. As well as not condemning on principle and forever any colonial policy, which under a socialist regime could be presented as the duty of civilization, he wished to add to the resolution that «the congress, affirming that socialism has need of the productive capacity of the entire world, destined to be at the service of humanity and to raise the peoples of every language and color to the highest forms of civilization, sees in the colonialist idea conceived in this sense, an integrating element in those universal objectives which the socialist movement is pursuing».

Kautsky would respond harshly to the opportunists and asked the congress to pronounce against the German delegation majority.

We will cite Lenin who commented on all these matters: «The point at issue was whether we should make concessions to the modern regime of bourgeois plunder and violence. The Congress was to discuss present‑day colonial policy, which was based on the downright enslavement of primitive populations. The bourgeoisie was actually introducing slavery in the colonies and subjecting the native populations to unprecedented outrages and acts of violence, “civilising” them by the spread of liquor and syphilis. And in that situation socialists were expected to utter evasive phrases about the possibility of accepting colonial policy in principle! That would be an outright desertion to the bourgeois point of view. It would be a decisive step towards subordinating the proletariat to bourgeois ideology, to bourgeois imperialism, which is now arrogantly raising its head» (“The Stuttgat congress of the Socialist International”).

The Commission’s proposal was rejected by 127 votes to 108 and 10 abstentions; the congress was virtually split in two, between revolutionaries and opportunists.

Let us quote Lenin again:

«The non‑propertied, but non‑working, class is incapable of overthrowing the exploiters. Only the proletarian class, which maintains the whole of society, can bring about the social revolution. However, as a result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletarian partly finds himself in a position when it is not his labor, but the labor of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole of society. The British bourgeoisie, for example, derives more profit from the many millions of the population of India and other colonies than from the British workers. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism» (Op.cit).

The International therefore expressed itself against colonialism:

«Capitalist colonial policy, by its very nature, must lead to enslavement and compulsory labor or to the extermination of the native population of the colonialist territories (...) The civilizing mission, to which capitalist society appeals, serves only as a cover for a burning passion for conquest and exploitation. Instead of increasing the productive forces, it enslaves and pauperizes the natives, and destroys the natural riches of the countries in which it plants its methods. The colonial system increases the financial burden of armaments and the danger of war, and the socialist members of parliament have a duty to oppose without compromise the regime of exploitation and serfdom that prevails in all colonies today, to exact reforms for the amelioration of the condition of the indigenous population, and to work with every means at their disposal for the education of these races for independence».

The left Fractions against the Opportunist wave

We have seen, from our brief overview of some of the congress resolutions, that the question of anti‑militarism is ever present among them, even if the watchword is either taken to extremes and reduced to a series of individual reactions and gestures in the anarchist view, or is watered down by the reformists, and reduced to an innocuous struggle in parliament. Against these two deformations there would be opposed the “anti‑militarism” of the Russian, German and Italian left, which, if in the early days of the International it tolerated watchwords like international arbitration, abolition of the standing armies etc., is well aware that the struggle against war and bourgeois militarism is far from being covered by those watchwords alone, and even less so if supported only on the parliamentary level.

The left forces are clear in their minds that in the epoch of imperialism, at the outbreak of the First World War anti‑militarism must be transformed into revolutionary defeatism.

Let us look at a few of the points in this theoretical battle of the left against reformism and anarchism regarding the definition of the historical period.

As we have already mentioned in the first part of this work, the year 1871, in the fully developed capitalist west, marked the end of the cycle of the progressive bourgeois wars of national organization and revolutionary Marxism would move onto the terrain of exclusively proletarian struggles against the bourgeoisie because, as far as the class movement was concerned, it was no longer a matter of lining up with one State army or another in order to clear away any remaining obstacles on the path to the capitalist mode of production: in fact by then any return to pre‑bourgeois economic forms and forms of rule is historically excluded.

After the phase of wars of national systemization there followed a long period which we have called “capitalism’s idyllic intermezzo”, which extended until 1914 which is the period in which the capitalist mode of production spread throughout the world; it is a period of “armed peace” between the capitalist metropolises and of continuous war against the populations in the colonies.

In this phase, which runs between the Paris Commune and 1914, militarism becomes the load‑bearing axis of capitalism’s social and economic existence, with its external role of conquering markets in the extra-European areas linked to a domestic function involving repression of any class movements.

The professional army, by now insufficient, is substituted everywhere with a conscripted army due to the prospect of increasingly widespread wars. The army, in the lower grades of its hierarchy, is composed mainly of proletarians who are psychologically and often physically annihilated (see articles in Avanguardia) by the system of discipline and obedience which aims to destroy in them any class feeling, and to convert them into war machines and cannon fodder.

Anti‑militarist activity therefore becomes one of the cornerstones of the socialist parties. Let us quote Lenin:

«It is very hard, sometimes almost impossible, to conduct propaganda among soldiers on active service. Life in the barracks, strict supervision and rare leave make establishing contact with the outer world extremely difficult; military discipline and the absurd spit and polish cow the soldier. Army commanders do everything they can to knock the “nonsense” out of the “brutes”, to purge them of every unconventional thought and every human emotion and to instill in them a sense of blind obedience and an unthinking wild hatred for “internal” and “external” enemies.... It is much harder to make an approach to the lone, ignorant and cowed soldier who is isolated from his fellow men and whose head has been stuffed with the wildest views on every possible subject, than to draft‑age young men living with their families and friends and closely bound up with them by common interest. Everywhere anti‑militarist propaganda among young workers has yielded excellent results. That is of tremendous importance. The worker who goes into the army a class-conscious Social-Democrat is a poor support for the powers that be» (Lenin, “Anti‑ Militarist Propaganda and Young Socialist Workers’ Leagues”).

And we will now quote again from “Il socialismo di ieri dinanzi alla Guerra di oggi”, from Avanguardia 11/1914, in Storia della sinistra comunista, p.249 s.).

«Militarism is the most fearsome adversary of our propaganda precisely because it does not make use of persuasion, but is based on the constitution of a forced and artificial environment, in which living relations are completely different from those of the ordinary environment.

«The worker, made a soldier, taken away from the closeness of friends, relatives, acquaintances, taken away from the life of the workshop, sees his right to discuss suppressed, his individuality cut off, his freedom cancelled, and he is fatally transformed into an automaton, into a plaything in the hands of discipline.

«The recalled soldier, in donning a uniform, automatically succumbs to military discipline. The smallest gesture of rebellion is paid for with death. Desertion is practically impossible. Collective revolt would require an unattainable mutual understanding and agreement. On the other hand, in a matter of hours the soldier can be immediately transported somewhere, to countries he doesn’t know, placed among fellow soldiers who for the most part he is seeing for the first time, with no news that doesn’t originate from his leaders: one sole means of salvation remains: to be blindly obedient and fight against the enemy in the hope of victory».

It is in the period of the 2nd International period that Marxism has to fight against the first wave of opportunism in the ranks of the proletarian movement: the revisionism of Bernstein and Jaurès which will influence the international to a significant extent. Terms that the proletariat thought were nothing to do with them are dredged up again. Marx and Engels’ powerful cry “the workers have no country” is twisted and distorted:

«The proletariat is not to be found outside the fatherland. When the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels in 1847 formulated the famous phrase, so often repeated and exploited in every way “the workers have no country” it was just a case of an impassioned quip, an entirely paradoxical retort and what is more an inconvenient one to the bourgeois patriots who denounced communism as destroyer of the country (...) A bit of internationalism pulls away from the country, a lot of internationalism draws close to it, a bit of patriotism pulls away from the International, a lot of patriotism leads back to it (...) The army thus constituted has as its exclusive objective that of defending its country’s independence and its land against any aggressor. All wars are criminal unless they are manifestly and certainly defensive, if the government of the country does not propose to the foreign government with which it is in conflict the regulation of this same conflict through arbitration» (Jaures, “The New Army”, 1911).

Luxemburg combats these opportunist positions:

«We find here, as the basis of all political orientation, that famous distinction between offensive war and defensive war which has played such a major role in the foreign policy of the socialist parties, but which due to the experience of the last decades should purely and simply be got rid of» (Luxemburg, “Review of the New Army”, 1911).

It is Lenin, supported by the German left, who at the Stuttgart Congress attacks the right and the opportunists on the problem of anti‑militarism.

«At one pole are German Social-Democrats like Vollmar. Since militarism is the offspring of capitalism, they argue, since wars are a necessary concomitant of capitalist development, there is no need for any special anti‑militarist activity. That is exactly what Vollmar declared at the Essen Party Congress. On the question of how Social-Democrats should behave if war is declared, the majority of the German Social-Democrats, headed by Bebel and Vollmar, hold rigidly to the view that the Social-Democrats must defend their country against aggression, and that they are bound to take part in a “defensive” war. This proposition led Vollmar to declare at Stuttgart that “all our love for humanity cannot prevent us being good Germans”, while the Social-Democratic deputy Noske proclaimed in the Reichstag that, in the event of war against Germany, “the Social-Democrats will not lag behind the bourgeois parties and will shoulder their rifles”. From this Noske had to make only one more step to declare: we want Germany to be armed as much as possible (...)

«The attitude of Vollmar, Noske and those who think like them on the “Right wing” is opportunist cowardice. Since militarism is the offspring of capitalism and will fall with it – as they argued at Stuttgart and still more at Essen – no special anti‑militarist agitation is needed: it should not exist. But, it was objected at Stuttgart, a radical solution of the labor question and the women’s question, for example, is also impossible while the capitalist system exists, but in spite of that, we fight for labor legislation, for extending the civil rights of women, etc. Special anti‑militarist propaganda must be carried out all the more energetically because cases of. interference in the struggle between labor and capital on the part of the military forces are becoming more frequent; and because the importance of militarism, not only in the present struggle of the proletarian but also in the future, at the time of the social revolution, is becoming more and more obvious», (Lenin, “Bellicose Militarism”, Collected Works, Vol.15).

At the same time as well as struggling against reformist anti‑militarism Marxism struggles against anarchism and anarcho- syndicalism, which have a notable influence on the working masses. Their anti‑militarist propaganda and action, although more combative than revisionism’s, are no less dangerous for the proletarian movement.

Lenin, polemizing with Hervé wrote in 1907:

«The notorious Hervé, who has made such a noise in France and Europe, advocated a semi‑anarchist view by naively suggesting that every war be “answered” by a strike and an uprising. He did not understand, on the one hand, that war is a necessary product of capitalism, and that the proletariat cannot renounce participation in revolutionary wars, for such wars are possible, and have indeed occurred in capitalist societies. He did not understand, on the other hand, that the possibility of “answering” a war depends on the nature of the crisis created by that war. The choice of the means of struggle depends on these conditions; moreover, the struggle must consist (and here we have the third misconception, or shallow thinking of Hervéism) not simply in replacing war by peace, but in replacing capitalism by socialism. The essential thing is not merely to prevent war, but to utilize the crisis created by war in order to hasten the overthrow of the bourgeoisie» (Lenin, “The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart”, Proletary).

Lenin although criticizing the semi‑anarchist absurdities at the same time attacks reformism, and he continues:

«However, underlying all these semi‑anarchist absurdities of Hervéism 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 realize the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labor solidarity and of the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses» (Op.Cit.).

And on this point he attacks Vollmar:

«Vollmar in particular fell into this error. With the extraordinary conceit of a man infatuated with stereotyped parliamentarism, he attacked Hervé without noticing that his own narrow-mindedness and thick-skinned opportunism make one admit the living spark in Hervéism, despite the theoretically absurd and nonsensical way in which Hervé himself presents the question. It does happen sometimes that at a new turning-point of a movement, theoretical absurdities conceal some practical truth. And it was this aspect of the question, the appeal to act in accordance with the new conditions of a future war and future crises, that was stressed by the revolutionary Social-Democrats, especially by Rosa Luxemburg in her speech» (Lenin, “The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart”, Kalendar dlya vsekh).

The Betrayal of 4 August 1914

After the 4th of August, socialists on both fronts preached solidarity with the national State at war, revamping the concept of patriotism which had been definitively obliterated for the proletariat by the Manifesto. Only a few groups of socialists would save themselves from the catastrophe of social-chauvinism.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks and with them the German group Die Internazionale and the Italian Left continued to defend the tradition of revolutionary Marxism by reasserting the imperialist character of the war, confirming their once and for all condemnation of any kind of inviolable union or national alliance and by defending the defeatist struggle inside the proletarian party against all of the States and armies at war. And their watchword of transforming the imperialist war into civil war is a powerful reaffirmation of the principles of revolutionary internationalism.

The 4th of August marks the moment the of the International’s collapse.

«The Second International, which in its twenty‑five years managed to perform the highly useful and important work of expanding the influence of socialism and the initial, elementary, preparatory organization of its forces, has completed its historical function and it is now dead, overcome by opportunism (...)
     «“Peaceful” decades, however, have not passed without leaving their mark. They have of necessity given rise to opportunism in all countries, and made it prevalent among parliamentarian, trade union, journalistic and other “leaders”. There is no country in Europe where, in one form or another, a long and stubborn struggle has not been conducted against opportunism, the latter being supported in a host of ways by the entire bourgeoisie, which is striving to corrupt and weaken the revolutionary proletariat»
(Lenin, “Dead Chauvinism and Living Socialism”, Collected Works, Vol. 21).

And Lenin again:

«It is generally agreed that opportunism is no chance occurrence, sin, slip, or treachery on the part of individuals, but a social product of an entire period of history. The significance of this truth is not always given sufficient thought. Opportunism has been nurtured by legalism. The workers’ parties of the period between 1889 and 1914 had to take advantage of bourgeois legality. When the crisis came, they should have adopted illegal methods of work (but this could not be done otherwise than with the greatest vigor and determination, combined with a number of stratagems). A single Südekum was sufficient to prevent the adoption of illegal methods, because, speaking in a historico-philosophical sense, he had the whole of the “old world” behind him, and because he, Südekum, has always betrayed, and will always betray, to the bourgeoisie all the military plans of its class enemy, speaking in the sense of practical politics» (Lenin, “The Collapse of the International”, Collected Works, vol 21).

We recall that on the 29/7/14, Südekum, a Social-Democrat member of the Reichstag Armaments Commission, wrote a letter to Chancellor Hollweg, whom he had already been in contact with for some time, assuring him, in the name of Ebert, Braun, Muller, Bartel and Fisher, that no protest actions had been planned.

We can see in the following quotes from Lenin, drawn again from “The Collapse of the International”, how social-chauvinism is the most mature expression of the opportunist tendencies present in the International, and how it partly finds its own roots in the incapacity of opportunism to understand the passage to an altered historical situation, an incapacity that is derived from its need to maintain the privileges it has acquired.

«Hence follows the reply to the question raised above, viz., how is social-chauvinism to be combated? Social-chauvinism is an opportunism which has matured to such a degree, grown so strong and brazen during the long period of comparatively “peaceful” capitalism, so definite in its political ideology, and so closely associated with the bourgeoisie and the governments, that the existence of such a trend within the Social-Democratic workers’ parties cannot be tolerated. Flimsy, thin‑soled shoes may be good enough to walk in on the well‑paved streets of a small provincial town, but heavy hob‑nailed boots are needed for walking in the hills. In Europe socialism has emerged from a comparatively peaceful stage that is confined within narrow and national limits. With the outbreak of the war of 1914‑15, it entered the stage of revolutionary action; there can be no doubt that the time has come for a complete break with opportunism, for its expulsion from the workers’ parties.
     «This definition of the tasks confronting socialism in the new era of international development does not, of course, immediately show how rapidly and in what definite forms the process of separation of the workers’ revolutionary Social-Democratic parties from the petty-bourgeois opportunist parties will proceed in the various countries. It does, however, reveal the need clearly to realise that such a separation is inevitable, and that the entire policy of the workers’ parties must be directed from this standpoint. The war of 1914‑15 is such a great turn in history that the attitude towards opportunism cannot remain the same as it has been. What has happened cannot be erased. It is impossible to obliterate from the minds of the workers, or from the experience of the bourgeoisie, or from the political lessons of our epoch in general, the fact that, at a moment of crisis, the opportunists proved to be the nucleus of those elements within the workers’ parties that deserted to the bourgeoisie.
     «Opportunism – to speak on a European scale – was in its adolescent stage, as it were, before the war. With the outbreak of the war, it grew to manhood and its “innocence” and youth cannot be restored. An entire social stratum, consisting of parliamentarians, journalists, labor officials, privileged office personnel, and certain strata of the proletariat, has sprung up and has become amalgamated with its own national bourgeoisie, which has proved fully capable of appreciating and “adapting” it. The course of history cannot be turned back or checked – we can and must go fearlessly onward, from the preparatory legal working-class organizations, which are in the grip of opportunism, to revolutionary organizations that know how not to confine themselves to legality and are capable of safeguarding themselves against opportunist treachery, organizations of a proletariat that is beginning a “struggle for power”, a struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie
» (Works, vol.21).

These powerful quotations from Lenin give us a very clear idea of the links between opportunism and chauvinism and how this lives off parliamentarism and unlimited legalitarianism.

The Italian Left, drawing the lesson from the debacle of 1914, issued a definitive judgement on the previous anti‑militarist tactics:

«The theory and propaganda of anti‑militarism before this war was developed mainly in view of the proletarian interest in and proletarian need to prevent and deprecate war by every means and to oppose the nefarious consequences of militarism in time of peace (extravagant arms expenditure, armed repression of the workers’ movement, pernicious influence of military life on young people, etc). But as to what socialists should do, not so much to avert war but in order to defend proletarian conquests and salvage socialism when war had actually broken out, that had been largely ignored.
     «The error consisted in considering the question of anti‑militarism (arms reduction, the armed citizens, arbitration, etc) from a reformist perspective, whereas the task of socialism is not to restore bourgeois society to health, but rather to hasten its demolition ab imis fundamentis, by returning, that is, to the cornerstones of its economic doctrine. Anti‑militarism isn’t therefore an end in itself, but one aspect of the action socialism is taking against capitalism
» (“From the Old to the New Anti‑militarism”, in Storia della Sinistra Comunista, 1915, p.279).

And again:

«Only under the socialist regime (...) only within a society without classes will wars not be possible. We repudiate the reformist anti‑militarism which dreams about the armed citizens and fails to notice that the evolution of the bourgeois States, and above all the most democratic ones, is going in precisely the opposite direction» (“Yesterday’s Socialism faced with Today’s War”, 1914, in Storia..., p.249).

And again:

«Socialism will need to draw vital lessons from these heavy defeats: to put its anti‑militarist action back on more solid foundations, to shift its parliamentary action – hitherto so abounding in bitter disappointments – in a more revolutionary direction» (p.250).
     «Classic anti‑militarism had spent little time, far too little time, anticipating the situation in which the socialists and the working classes would find themselves in those few hours when the war went from being a threat to a reality.
     «The socialists had experience of partial crises, due to colonial wars and wars on a smaller scale, such as the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, the one in Libya (...) But the conflict between the most powerful States in the world, between countries bordering on one another and prepared to employ the most terrible of offensive methods, in an age in which coded telegrams sent between governments can decide the fate of millions of people, would sweep away, in a crisis beyond compare, all opinions, all tendencies, all forecasts, and all intentions.
     «It is all too well known what happened next. Beyond having been unable to prevent war – which didn’t absolutely mean a failure of socialism – the socialists in the principal States have, barring a few exceptions, gave their full solidarity to their respective governments» (“From the Old to the New Anti‑militarism”, 1915, in Storia..., p.279).

Towards the Future

The anti‑militarist tactics of the majority in the 2nd International were therefore characterized by the need to deprecate war and to prevent it by every means possible, tactics, that is, of protest and denunciation that were intended to oppose the baleful consequences of militarism. The western parties restricted themselves to just verbal propaganda against the war and militarism, an activity which revealed how entirely impotent and fruitless it was when war broke out.

One might say that what happened on the 4th of August was predictable because of the greater weight of the right and opportunism within the International, but it would be reductive to consider the International in its entirety as opportunist because of what happened on that day, and one would risk throwing out the baby – the healthy tendencies within the International – with the bathwater.

On this point we will quote Zinoviev, who in his article “The 2nd International and the Problem of Renouncing our Heritage?”, 1916, (republished in Il Programma Comunista, no.16/1973) engaged in polemics with Gorter on the subject.

«We do not deny here the correctness of the harsh characterization that Gorter gives of the leaders who set the tone at the Basle Congress: we know that opportunists in every country do not believe in revolution. We can well imagine what happened in the diplomatic cookhouse of the 2nd International in which the Basle resolution was prepared (...) But the primary issue resides in the fact that the Basle Congress at that time was speaking to the working masses. The socialist workers hung on the International’s every word and took the Basle Manifesto for pure gold as well. Another question: why did the diplomats of opportunism themselves had to say all this to the masses and not something else, not what they are saying now? (...) The duty of the revolutionary Marxists is to show how, during the quarter century of the International’s existence, two underlying tendencies fought within it, with alternating success regarding who had the upper hand: the Marxist one and the opportunist one. We do not want to erase the entire history of the 2nd International; we do not want to renounce what there was that was Marxist within it» (Translated from Programma).

We quote Lenin on this:

«The vote on the 4th of August, in which international social-democracy manifested its alignment with its respective imperialism, constituted the renunciation of the commitments made at Stuttgart and Basle and was not the consequence of insufficiencies or ambiguities of lesser importance traceable back to those resolutions: the collapse of the 2nd International was expressed most significantly in the unprecedented betrayal by most of the European Social-Democratic parties of their own convictions and their solemn declarations made in Stuttgart and Basle» (Lenin, “The Collapse of the 2nd International”, Works, vol.21).

It was the left fractions of the 2nd International, the Russian Bolshevik Party, and the Italian Left, which have always stood under the banner of Marxist orthodoxy in the face of war and shown the proletariat the traditional programmatic plan and the tactics flowing from it, which would open up the revolutionary cycle to the future.